whaling, iceland, whale meat
Adam Butler/AP
The whaling boat 'Njordur'.

Incoming Icelandic Government Upholds Whaling Quotas

February 19, 2009 11:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Iceland’s new government had planned to reduce the whaling quotas set by the outgoing regime, but the legal complications have proved too great.

Iceland Will Maintain Whaling Quotas For One Year

Despite international outcry against dramatically increased whaling quotas, Iceland will permit up to 150 fin and 150 minke whales to be hunted this year. The higher quotas were set by the old govenment at the very end of its term, and while the new government vowed to reverse the decision, the country's Fisheries Minister explained to Agence France-Presse that a lawyer determined reversing the decision would be impossible.

Although the previous regime set the quotas for five years, the two parties that make up the new minority government, the Social Democrats and the Left Green Party, are only obligated to uphold the quotas for one year, and plan to reduce them as soon as it is legally possible.

Background: Whaling quotas raise concern over Iceland’s image

Iceland’s conservative Independence Party had been leading a coalition government since 2006. But in recent months, it was plagued by failing banks, a damaged economy and sometimes violent protests in the streets. The coalition has been replaced by one headed by the left-leaning Social Democratic Alliance party.

One of the last things the outgoing minister of fisheries and agriculture did was raise the country’s quotas for hunting fin and minke whales.

The old quotas allowed 9 fin and 40 minke whales to be killed per year. Economic factors contributed to the new quotas. A parliament member in the Independence Party told Iceland Review the increased whaling quotas would create new jobs, both in preparation for the summer whaling season, and during the season itself.

But another member of parliament, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, called the move “ill-advised.”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this can have considerably negative influences on discussions about us Icelanders, which is already very negative. I believe we have to be very careful in all of our relations with the international community,” said Halldórsdóttir.

Seven countries had written letters to the government asking it to change the decision. The BBC predicted that this new regulation could have implications on the country’s international relations, especially with the European Union. Many see joining the EU as the best way for Iceland to survive the financial problems, but ceasing whaling may be a condition of membership.

“Some observers believe that Hvalur hf [a whaling company] and the outgoing government are using whaling as a way to lobby against Iceland joining the EU,” the BBC said.

Historical Context: Whaling in Iceland

In 2006, Iceland announced that it had overturned its 20-year ban on commercial whaling, but in August 2007, the country did not plan to “issue new whale-hunting quotas” until the demand increased and it gained a license to export whale meat to Japan, reported Reuters.

“The whaling industry, like any other industry, has to obey the market. If there is no profitability there is no foundation for resuming with the killing of whales,” said Iceland’s fisheries minister, Einar K. Gudfinnsson.

Many older Icelanders are fans of the beeflike meat and support whaling; others are not so sure. Some Icelanders are uncomfortable eating whale because of the species’ limited numbers, or feel that whaling could harm the country’s image and deflate the tourism industry.

Outside of Iceland, the practice of whaling and consumption of the meat is debated. The Australian government was particularly distressed by the 2006 decision, calling it “a disgrace,” according to the Guardian. The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species maintains a ban on the trading of whale meat. And in June 2008, Reuters reported that the United States had “urged Iceland and Norway to cease exporting whale meat to Japan,” while the two countries argued “that whales are plentiful in the North Atlantic and do not need protection.”

It seems the debate will continue, as Greenpeace reports: “Not enough is known about the status of minke whales to make an accurate assessment” of whether they are endangered.

Related Topic: Japan’s whaling industry

Reference: Whaling and whale meat


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