Iceland’s Government Approves Whale-Hunting Quotas

May 20, 2008

Commercial whale hunting begins Monday in Iceland, following the government’s grant of a small quota of 40 minke, a number far short of the 100 requested by whalers.

The decision had been expected a month ago following requests from whalers for a speedy ruling, but disagreements within the government delayed the matter for weeks before the government formally gave the go-ahead Monday morning. Whalers said they would launch as soon as possible.

Environmental groups said the ruling would further damage the nation’s economy, which has already been harmed as a result of an international debt crisis.

“It all depends on the weather, but if the weather is good then we hunt tomorrow (Tuesday) morning,” said Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, head of the minke whaling association, told BBC News.

The government maintains its decision is based on the country’s commercial market for minke meat.

“We issued… a minke quota which limits the catch to 40 animals, and that’s similar to the amount that was caught last year,” Stefan Asmundsson, Iceland’s whaling commissioner, told BBC News.

There is currently no quota for another target of Icelandic vessels, fin whales.

Mr. Jonsson confirmed to BBC News that meat from last year’s minke catch had been sold, but said his members had hoped for a larger annual quota that was closer to the 100 they had requested for the year.

“We caught 45 whales last year and sold it all, so if we can sell all the meat from 40 animals this time I believe we can get more quota, but we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

This will be the third season since Iceland resumed its commercial hunting in 2006.  And while its annual catch is much smaller than those of Japan and Norway, its hunt is nevertheless controversial since Iceland had previously stopped operations and the policy contradicts what some view as the nation’s image being “green” and ecologically conscious.

“We strongly urge the Icelandic government to rethink this decision,” said Robbie Marsland of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) told BBC News.

“The resumption of commercial whaling could prove to be extremely damaging to the already fragile Icelandic economy and its international reputation.”

The economy is already struggling under heavy borrowing by its three major banks.  And inflation is above 11%, with interest rates up to 15%.

Mr. Marsland submits that the growing industry of whale watching could be an important asset during these difficult economic times.  

“We encourage the government to act now to protect this multi-million-pound industry and its wider economic interests,” he told BBC News.

The government’s delay in announcing the minke quota has strengthened speculation that some departments, particularly the foreign ministry, agreed with IFAW’s positions.  But the decision ultimately resides with the fisheries ministry, which believes there is no reason to cancel a hunt for 40 minkes when the north Atlantic population is thought by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to number about 174,000.

“There can be no question that this is a sustainable activity,” said Mr. Asmundsson.

Legally, whaling permits can fall into one of the following three categories:  

  • Objection — when a country, such as Norway, formally declares itself exempt to the IWC moratorium.
  • Scientific ““ when any IWC member nation, such as Japan, unilaterally issues a “Ëœscientific permit’.
  • Aboriginal ““ when the IWC grants permission to indigenous populations, such as the Alaskan Inupiat, to hunt for subsistence food.

Image Credit Wikipedia

On the Net:

Iceland Ministry of Fisheries


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