Whalers supports Iceland move

The Icelandic government said on Tuesday that it would allow its ships to harpoon 30 minke whales and nine fin whales, primarily for export purposes, resuming commercial whaling after 16 years.

Both mammals are on the endangered species list drawn up by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, but Iceland insisted the quota would not hurt what it termed “abundant” stocks in the North Atlantic.

Norway, until now the only country to openly engage in commercial whaling, on Wednesday welcomed Iceland’s decision to resume the practice.

“There are very good reasons to authorise the hunt,” Karsten Klepsvik, Norway’s representative to the IWC, told news agency AFP.

Iceland’s decision “helps normalise the whaling issue”, he said.

Japan declined to comment directly on Iceland’s decision but said it supported commercial whaling.

“The Japanese government has nothing to say officially with regards to Iceland’s decision, but we share the opinion that sustainable commercial whaling is possible in certain species,” fisheries agency official Hideaki Okada said.

An International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling has been in force since 1986. Iceland left the IWC in 1992 but re-joined in 2002, saying, like Norway, it would not be bound by the moratorium.

Japan officially complies with the ban, but it uses a loophole that allows countries to kill whales for research, with the meat in fact ending up on dinner plates.

Whaling nations argue that the species of whale they hunt are abundant and exist in sufficient numbers to pose a threat to fish stocks.

According to official estimates, there are close to 70,000 minke whales and some 25,800 fin whales in the North Atlantic. Fin whales are the second biggest cetaceans after the endangered and rare blue whale.

“These are conservative estimates but, even with these numbers, it is obvious that the volume allowed by quotas do not threaten the survival of these species,” spokesman for the pro-whaling group High North Alliance, Rune Froevik told AFP.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) slammed Iceland’s decision.

“We’re disappointed by this development and disturbed by it because the amount of whaling is increasing,” the IUCN’s representative on whaling, Justin Cooke, told AFP.

Both France and New Zealand objected to the Icelandic decision.

Norway has authorised whalers to hunt 1,052 minke whales in the 2006 season, the biggest quota allowed since the Scandinavian country decided to resume the commercial hunt in 1993.

But Norwegian whalers have failed to fill their quotas for several years, citing poor weather conditions, the high price of petrol and a saturated processing industry for whale meat.

Opponents of the whale hunt say there is no market for whale meat.

Considered poor man’s food after World War II, whale meat is now rarely eaten in Norway.

Japan, where whale meat remains popular, has also increased the size of its authorised catch. The only sizeable market for whale products, Japan continues nonetheless to refuse to import Norwegian exports of the animal.

In June, under pressure from Tokyo and Oslo, the IWC narrowly passed a resolution declaring that the 20-year-old moratorium on commercial hunting was “no longer necessary”. However, a 75 percent majority is needed for the moratorium to be overturned.