Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘whaling’

Iceland’s fisheries minister allows whaling again


It’s unbelievable. Iceland’s fisheries minister, Kristjan Thor Juliusson, has just signed a regulation authorizing the killing of fin whales and minke whales for the next five years. In part, the decision was based on the report on the economic, social and environmental consequences of whaling that the government commissioned the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economics to carry out. And, like the report they wrote in 2010, this one was heavily criticized. He also based his decision on advice (in Icelandic) from the whale experts from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, which says in part that more research using tissue samples is necessary to investigate the food they eat. Their statement mentions new research on the benefits of whales in transporting nutrients between layers, and says it has been discussed at meetings of NAMMCO and the IWC scientific committee, but is generally not considered to be as important when compared to other factors that may influence marine productivity.

They admit that the minke stock appears to be diminishing, although they think that the whales have moved north in search of food. Last season, the minke whalers stopped almost as soon as they started, after killing 10 whales as it was not economical to do so (but the Institute of Economics report did not mention that). So, even though they are permitted to kill more minke whales, it’s not at all likely that they will do so.

Apparently the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recently compiled a list of endangered wildlife in and around Iceland; neither fin whales nor minke whales are considered endangered around Iceland (they are “Least Concern”, in IUCN terms).

The Prime Minister’s party, the Left-Greens, are against whaling and the PM has said she considers that whaling is not sustainable. Julíusson holds the opposite view. He says that the matter is certainly controversial – “there are different opinions on the matter. “But this is one of the tasks that comes under my ministry and it’s up to me to take a decision, which I’ve now done,” he told the national broadcasting station. Juliusson is from the conservative Independent Party.

As yet, there has been little reaction to the decision, maybe because it was announced early evening when few people are still at work. But I’m sure there will be reactions. I’ll update as necessary.

Update: The Left-Green environment minister, Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, said that Júlíusson did not tell him about his plan to allow whaling on scientific grounds. Gudbrandsson is against whaling and is not happy with the decision.

Minke whales still being hunted

Although Kristjan Loftsson from Hvalur announced in late February that fin whales will not be hunted off Iceland this summer (he was the person responsible for this), the smaller minke whales are still being hunted, albeit in small numbers as it’s difficult to find them near Reykjavik where the minke whaling company is based. The first minke whale for the season has now been caught.

The minke whalers use the same bay for catching whales as the whale watchers use, though in theory the whalers must not enter the protected area which the whale watching boats use. Whale watching has become immensely popular, and latest estimates say that the number of tourists going whale-watching this year will exceed the total population of Iceland (about 330,000). Whale-watching is obviously more viable than minke whale hunting, as well as providing more jobs and more government revenue.

The whale-watching companies are pressing for their area to be expanded, but the minke whalers object to this. Given that only 29 minke whales were caught last year, I feel the interests of the whale-watching companies greatly outnumber those of the minke whalers (which now are only represented by one company).


Fin whaling in Iceland is loss-making

The Icelandic fin-whaling company Hvalur hf. made a loss on its fin-whaling activities last year, according to annual accounts for the company. The company’s annual accounts show that it sold whale meat for ISK 1.055 million in 2014 but the expense of running the whaling ships and export-related expenses (presumably the shipment of whale meat to Japan on the freight ship Alma) amounted to ISK 2.011 million. The value of stock changes of whale produce was recorded as ISK 822 million, and thus the estimated loss of fin whaling was at least ISK 73 million.

Frozen supplies of whale meat were estimated as ISK 2.6 billion in September 2014.

Overall, though, Hvalur hf. recorded a profit of ISK 3 billion, mostly due to activities of its subsidiary Vogun hf. which owns a large part of the fishing companies HB Grandi and Hampiðjan.

The financial situation is not likely to improve this year either, with the ship Winter Bay being moored in Tromsö for 6 weeks. Also, Icelandic fish companies are extremely concerned at the moment because Russia is seriously considering banning the importation of Icelandic goods – most of which consist of fish – because of Iceland’s support for economic sanctions against Russia because of its role in the Ukraine crisis. Initially Russia banned imports from the EU and certain other countries but now it is considering extending the ban to Iceland. When US anti-whaling groups were encouraging boycotts of fish coming from Iceland due to Iceland’s whale-hunting activities, Icelandic fishery companies were not particularly worried because most of Iceland’s fish goes to Russia. Exports to Russia have increased almost five-fold since 2008. But now they’re really worried….

If Hvalur cannot depend on fishing profits from HB Grandi to keep it afloat, it will be in deep trouble.

UPDATE: Russia implemented the ban yesterday, August 13. And fishing concerns are extremely angry….

Iceland’s foreign minister says Iceland should kill less whales

Iceland’s foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, has just realized that some people from some countries are somewhat contemptuous of Iceland because of its whaling activities. Well, maybe contemptuous is a bit strong but Iceland is viewed somewhat negatively by some. He has just said that Iceland should consider cutting down on its whaling activities to appease international society.

What he doesn’t realize is that Iceland will have to stop ALL of its whaling activities if it is to be regarded positively. Reducing whaling is not enough – it has to stop completely. And that goes for both minke whales and fin whales, though international attention is mainly focused on the latter.

Sea Shepherd to concentrate on Nordic countries this year

Last week, conservation organization Sea Shepherd said that they would be concentrating their actions this summer on the Nordic countries: the Faroe islands, Iceland and Norway. Now they say they will primarily be concentrating on the Faroe islands, like last year when they also produced a short film about the situation there. However, they will be keeping an eye on the whaling activities of Iceland and Norway.

The Dutch coordinator of the actions, Alex Cornelissen, says they are only against one person in Iceland: Kristjan Loftsson, the person behind the fin whale hunting.

They appear not to be interested in the hunting of minke whales, which is likely to begin very soon. But the minke whales don’t need Sea Shepherd to protect them at the moment – the vets from Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority are on strike, and they are needed to take the temperature of the meat before it can be processed. Minke whaling cannot start until the vets go back to work.

UPDATE, June 4: It now appears that two minke whales have now been caught, on the premise that the strike by vets at the Food and Veterinary Authority would end (it hasn’t). The meat of the second whale is being kept in the freezer, while meat of the first whale was destroyed.

More problems for Icelandic minke whaling company

The only company that was hunting minke whales last year off Iceland, IP Utgerd, has been reprimanded by the Directorate of Fisheries for bypassing the weighing of the majority of the minke whales they caught last season. Out of the 24 whales they caught, 14 were not recorded. The man behind the company concerned, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, says that whales are recorded by number caught rather than weight, and that after years of scientific whaling the weight of minke whales should be known. They say they notify the Directorate electronically as soon as a whale is killed. Apparently the unwanted parts of a minke whale are discarded at sea, and only the meat and blubber are brought to land.

If the company bypasses the weighing machine once more within the next two years, they will have their licence retracted. Which could mean that no more minke whales would be caught.

In point of fact, IP Utgerd only utilized 10% of their quota, as they were allowed to hunt 240 whales. Consequently, they have had to import minke whale meat from Norway to supply restaurants and the like within Reykjavik.

UPDATE: Apparently, Japan had to destroy whale meat it got from Norway last year because it contained excessive levels of insecticide. No one thought of testing the Norwegian whale meat imported to Iceland for insecticide, and there is no guarantee that any remaining meat – if there is any – will be tested now.

Article up on the economic and trade repercussions of whaling

Inter Press Service finally published my article on the economic and trade repercussions of whaling for Iceland. It seems that minke whale hunters have not been particularly active this summer as by August 11 only 19 whales had been killed, cf. 74 fin whales. The minke whale hunters had initially hoped to catch 50 whales this summer, but at the current rate this is very unlikely to happen as the season ends around the end of September. Last year, 38 minkes were caught.

Two months after Japanese whale meat had arrived in Japan via the cargo ship Alma, the whale blubber was still in cold storage in Osaka customs.