Iceland's Renewed Whaling Draws Formal Rebuke

REYJAVIK, Iceland, November 2, 2006 (ENS) - Twenty-four countries and the European Commission expressed their opposition to renewed Icelandic commercial whaling Wednesday by handing the Government of Iceland a formal protest, called a demarche.

In the formal statement presented to the Icelandic government in Reyjavik, the anti-whaling coalition of governments say they are "extremely disappointed" that the Icelandic government has resumed commercial whaling in Icelandic waters, in spite of the internationally agreed moratorium that took effect 20 years ago.

Iceland broke the global moratorium on October 22, killing an endangered fin whale for the first time since the 1980s.

The whale was harpooned in the north Atlantic about 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Iceland.

On October 17, Iceland announced that it plans to take nine endangered fin whales and 30 minke whales for commercial purposes before August 31, 2007.


Seagulls feeding on the carcass of a fin whale at Hvalfjörður whaling station in Iceland, January 1, 1988 (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The anti-whaling countries object because, as they say in the demarche, fin whales "have been classified as 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and are listed under CITES Appendix I," which bans international trade in endangered species.

At the 22nd Animals Committee meeting of CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - which took place in Peru in July, Iceland's proposed inclusion of the central stock of North Atlantic fin whales in the periodic review was agreed, the anti-whaling countries acknowledge.

"Nevertheless, the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries has now set its own catch limits, without awaiting the outcome of this review," they state in their protest document.

The demarche complains that "Iceland has set its quota using criteria that have not been presented to or reviewed and approved by the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee."

The International Whaling Commission and the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission agree on an estimate of 25,800 fin whales in the central north Atlantic, and 43,600 minke whales in Icelandic waters.

In addition to the 30 minke whales the Icelandic Government has declared it would take by next August, Iceland has been conducting research whaling since 2003 under a provision of the International Whaling Commission, IWC, regulations that allow taking of whales for scientific investigation.

Since the IWC rules require that the meat and blubber from research whaling be utilized, these whales too end up in a marketplace or restaurant.

Iceland says that since its research whaling began 161 minke whales have been taken and its research plan will be completed in 2007 when the sample size of 200 minke whales has been obtained.

Staunch anti-whaling country Australia is among those that signed the demarche.

Deliberately targeting an endangered species simply does not make sense," said Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell.

"To resume hunting of fin whales now will have a devastating impact on an already struggling population that has still not recovered from the plundering days prior to the moratorium, he said.

fin whale

A fin whale feeds in the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Iceland re-joined the IWC in 2002 with a "reservation" to the moratorium; that under no circumstances would commercial whaling resume without a sound scientific basis, and an effective management and enforcement scheme.

At the time Australia and 17 other pro-conservation countries formally registered an objection to Iceland’s reservation.

For Iceland to turn its back on the IWC so easily shows a blatant disrespect for international obligations," Campbell said.

Iceland argues that it needs to go whaling for economic reasons and that the number of animals it plans to take is sustainable.

"There are many different whale species and stocks in the world's oceans," the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs said in a joint statement in October.

"Some are in a poor state and in need of protection. However, many whale populations are far from being threatened or endangered. The taking of threatened or endangered whales is certainly not justified and is strongly opposed by Iceland," the ministries stated. "On the other hand, sustainable takes of animals from abundant populations are consistent with the principle of sustainable development."

Stefan Asmundsson, commissioner of whaling at Iceland's Ministry of Fisheries, called the catch quotas unquestionably sustainable."

Other whaling nations, such as Japan, support Iceland in its decision to resume commercial whaling.

Hideki Moronuki, deputy director of Japan’s far seas fisheries division, told New Scientist,"It is simply a case of harvesting abundant marine resources at a level that will not affect the stock.

But the protesting countries urge Iceland to rely more on whale watching and less on killing whales. "We are of the opinion that the decision to commence commercial whaling sends a wrong signal with regard to Iceland's growing whale watching industry."

Iceland argues that there is no evidence that its emerging whaling industry will harm its whale watching business.

The governments that signed the protest demarche are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, The Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Commission.