Iceland Puts Down Its Whaling Harpoons for a Year

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, August 27, 2007 (ENS) - Whale conservationists are declaring victory and celebrating the decision by the government of Iceland not to issue any more commercial whaling quotas until market demand for whale meat improves, especially in Japan.

Icelandic Fisheries Minister Einar Guofinnsson told the Reuters news agency Friday that the government believes that there is no reason to allow more whaling after the current quota expires on August 31.

"I will not issue a new quota until the market conditions for whale meat improve and permission to export whale products to Japan is secured," said Guofinnsson. "There is no reason to continue commercial whaling if there is no demand for the product."

Icelandic whalers want to continue killing whales, saying they cannot build up the market if there is no product to sell.

Last October Iceland announced a return to commercial whaling. Despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place for over two decades, Iceland and issued a quota of 30 minke whales and nine fin whales, listed by the IUCN-World Conservation Union as an endangered species.

Of that quota, Icelandic whalers have killed seven minke whales and seven fin whales but have not been able to market the meat for a number of reasons.

Whale carcass is stripped of meat in Iceland. October 2006. (Photo by Jonas Fr. Thorsteinsson courtesy
But fears of high toxic levels in North Atlantic whale meat have made both Icelanders and Japanese consumers reluctant to buy it.

"This is fantastic news for whales and for Iceland," said Robbie Marsland, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's UK office.

"Whaling is cruel and unnecessary," he said, "and all of our studies have also shown there is little appetite for whale meat in Iceland or internationally."

"We welcome the minister's comments and congratulate him for recognizing the lack of market and choosing not to press ahead with the pointless killing of more whales," Marsland said. "We hope that Iceland's successful whale watching industry will continue to grow without the country's image being further tarnished by whaling."

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Founder Captain Paul Watson says his 20 year long "aggressive" campaign against Icelandic whaling has turned public opinion against the twin ideas of whale hunting and eating whale meat, although he acknowledges the pressure from his organization is one factor among many.

"Iceland has been deterred by condemnation from the International Whaling Commission for their illegal slaughter of whales. They have been deterred by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species which will not authorize the sale of Icelandic whale meat to Japan. And they have been deterred by international public criticism," Watson said Friday.

"Much of that public awareness came about because of Sea Shepherd's Operation Ragnarok. The announcement in April that Sea Shepherd was sending its ship Farley Mowat to intervene against illegal Icelandic whaling generated a great deal of media attention towards the issue," he said.

After an 11,500 mile voyage from Antarctica where it fought against Japanese whaling in January, the Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat is now in Bermuda, and Watson says there is no reason to continue on to Iceland. But, he says, Sea Shepherd intends to keep the ship within range of Iceland if there is any attempt in 2008 to kill whales again.

In November 1986, a Sea Shepherd crew sank half of Iceland's whaling fleet in Reykjavik harbor. No one was aboard when the ships were sunk. In January 1988, Watson flew to Iceland and demanded to be charged for the sinking. He says he wanted to stand trial "in response to Iceland's bogus charges of criminality." Iceland refused to lay charges.

"Iceland knew that to put us on trial would in fact put the nation of Iceland on trial," said Watson. "By refusing to lay charges, Iceland acknowledged that Sea Shepherd's action was a justifiable policing action."

Children watch a whale being butchered in Iceland. October 2006. (Photo by Jonas Thorsteinsson courtesy
Greenpeace says that while Fisheries Minister Guofinnsson's statement is short of declaring an end to Icelandic whaling, it is unlikely that market conditions for whale meat will improve, and even more unlikely that Japan will purchase the meat.

In addition to Iceland's self-authorized commercial whaling quota, since 2003 Iceland has been conducting a separate "scientific" hunt for minke whales under a provision of the International Whaling Commission rules that allows for research whaling.

This was intended to be a two year program to hunt 200 whales, begun in 2003. Yet with only one more month of the 2007 whaling season left, the scientific hunt is still six whales short of that quota, despite four years of whaling, Greenpeace points out. Meat from this hunt is also piling up in storage lockers, unsold.

There are alternatives to lethal research which makes killing whales for science unnecessary, Greenpeace says, calling for Iceland to announce an end to all whaling.

Greenpeace is holding out an economic carrot to Iceland if the hunt is ended. "Sparing the six minkes remaining in the scientific quota could earn Icelandic tourism a bonus of $116.9 million from the 122,000 Greenpeace supporters worldwide who have pledged to consider a visit to Iceland if whaling stops," the organization said Friday. "All the minister has to do is announce he's hanging up the harpoons."

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