South Korea reconsiders whaling plan

South Korea appears to be backing away from plans to conduct "scientific" whaling but Gillard government ministers are not yet breathing a sigh of relief.

Last week, at an International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama, South Korea revealed plans to start whaling for minkes for scientific purposes.

This would exploit a loophole in the global moratorium on commercial whaling that permits killing of whales for "scientific" research.

The move sparked a wave of international condemnation, from countries including Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

At the time, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was "very disappointed" by the decision and instructed Australia's top diplomat in Seoul to raise the matter directly with the Korean government.

In South Korea, news media editorials rounded on the government, and some environmental protesters took to the streets.

Yesterday, an official with Korea's Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries told reporters South Korea was reconsidering its plans.

"We may not conduct whaling for scientific research if there is another way to achieve the goal," Kang Joon-Suk said.

Mr Kang said South Korea would fully consult international and domestic experts before and after presenting a detailed whaling programme to the IWC's scientific committee, set to meet in South Korea in May next year.

"We will respect the committee's recommendations in making our decision," he said.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr is planning to discuss whaling during a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the East Asian summit in Cambodia today.

Senator Carr welcomed the reports that South Korea was reconsidering its stance but said he was still worried about the issue.

"I'm concerned as yet but I'm looking forward to meeting the foreign minister of South Korea," he told ABC Radio.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said that South Korea needed to state publicly that they would never start whaling again.

"So long as Korea is in any way considering reintroducing so-called scientific whaling, Australia's opposed to it," Mr Burke told ABC Radio.

"We don't accept that there's anything scientific about going out, harpooning a whale, chopping it up and selling its meat."

The South Korean government has announced that South Korea would not consume meat from whales caught for scientific research if its original plan goes ahead.

South Korea officially suspended its whaling in 1986 in compliance with the IWC's global moratorium on commercial whaling.

But a limited market has continued to operate in some coastal cities, based largely on the so-called "by-catch" of minke whales in fishing nets.

Norway and Iceland openly defy the 1986 moratorium, saying they believe stocks are healthy.

Japan already uses the scientific research loophole, with the meat then sold as food.

The Australian government is taking Japan to the International Court of Justice - arguing that scientific whaling is an "abuse of right" - with the case expected to be argued before the court within the next year.

With Andrew Darby, agencies

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