whaling, iceland, whale meat
Adam Butler/AP

Critics Debate Iceland’s Penchant for Whale Meat

September 03, 2008 10:45 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
As whale meat arrives on more restaurant menus in Iceland, the debate over the ethics of whaling continues to swirl.

A Whale of a Meal

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.

While many older Icelanders are fans of the beef-like 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.

Background: Whaling in Iceland

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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