whaling, iceland, whale meat
Adam Butler/AP

Outgoing Icelandic Government Raises Whaling Quotas to Boost Economy

January 28, 2009 01:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Iceland’s news government says a new rule allowing more minke and fin whales to be killed could damage the country’s already-battered reputation.

Whaling Quotas Raise Concern Over Iceland’s Image

Iceland’s conservative Independence Party has been leading a coalition government since 2006. But in recent months it has been plagued by failing banks, a damaged economy and sometimes violent protests in the streets. Earlier this week the country’s president asked the left-leaning Social Democratic Alliance party to form a new coalition.

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.

Under the old quotas, 9 fin and 40 minke whales could be killed per year. The new quotas allow “the killing of 150 fin whales and up to 150 minke whales a year,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Economic factors contributed to the new rule. A parliament member in the Independence Party told Iceland Review the increased whaling quotas will create new jobs, both to prepare 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, who could be chosen as the country’s next environmental minister, the BBC reported.

Though members of the incoming government have said they’ll get rid of the new quota rule, Iceland Review said, “questions have been raised on whether a new government has the legal authority to annul the regulation.”

According to the BBC, 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.

Background: Whaling in Iceland

In Iceland, whale meat is showing up on restaurant menus again, with items like minke whale sashimi growing in popularity, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Commercial whale hunting resumed in Iceland in 2006 following a 20-year ban, including “limited hunting of minke whale, one of the smallest and most numerous of the main whale species,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

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.

In a 2003 Slate essay, Seth Stevenson described the whale meat he consumed in Japan as “delicious.” Furthermore, he finds no fault with eating whale. “Anyone who’s eaten a burger has eaten mammal. Is there a difference between land mammal and sea mammal?” Stevenson asks.

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.

In August 2007, Iceland announced it would “not 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.

The decision frustrated whalers, including Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, who asked, “How are we supposed to find markets if we don’t have a product?”

In 2006, Iceland announced that it had overturned its 20-year ban on commercial whaling. The Australian government was particularly distressed by the decision, calling it “a disgrace,” according to The Guardian.

Related Topic: Japan’s whaling industry

Reference: Whaling and whale meat


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