Iceland is allowing whaling again, and the rules are being tightened

In June, the Icelandic government imposed a temporary ban after a critical report from the National Animal Welfare Authority, which described many whales suffering unnecessarily while hunting. Of the 148 whales caught in 2022, 36 were shot more than once before dying. The whale with a harpoon in its body was chased for five hours without success. The temporary ban was due to expire on Friday.

A ministerial working group recently concluded that it is possible to improve fishing techniques, which could reduce the suffering of whales. Stricter rules will now apply to the equipment used by hunters and the way animals are caught. The government also wants to strengthen control.

International ban

The decision is controversial because whaling is a violation of international agreements. There has been an international ban on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1986. In addition, the fin whale was declared an endangered species in 2008 and trade in fin whale products was banned in the United Nations treaty CITES. Iceland negotiated an exception in both cases. In addition to Iceland, Japan and Norway allow whaling. Permit holders in Iceland received an annual quota from the government for the number of fin and minke whales they might kill.

Iceland reluctantly agreed to the moratorium in the 1980s, but left the International Fisheries Commission in 1992 when it refused to allow the quota system. They joined again in 2002, but with a very controversial caveat against the ban extending indefinitely. In 2006, Iceland resumed commercial fishing and export, despite protests and even economic sanctions imposed by the United States. Iceland is the only country in the world that hunts the endangered fin whale, which is the second largest animal on Earth after the blue whale.

The discussion is not settled yet

Fisheries Minister Svandis Svavarsdotter showed Thursday that the debate over whaling is far from over. “We are the last country in the world to catch big whales in this way and there is only one company doing it. The question is whether this is the picture we want to see.”

The whaling controversy was also affected by the decline in revenue. Few big fish were caught in 2020 and 2021. Additionally, demand for widely consumed Icelandic whale meat from Japan fell sharply because the country allowed hunting again in 2019. One Icelandic license holder gave up in 2020 because hunting was no longer profitable. The family company Hvalur is the only permit holder left.

The animation goes down

Whaling conflicts with tourism, which is increasingly important in Iceland. Whale watching is one of the biggest tourist attractions on the island. Tour operators complain that they have to sail further and further because the whales are becoming shyer. The enthusiasm among Icelanders is also declining. In a poll conducted earlier this month, 51% of respondents said they were against stalking. And 29% were in favor of this, including a relatively large number of those over sixty years of age.

And in the 1960s, tens of thousands of whales were being killed every year. After the ban imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, hunting was only permitted for scientific research purposes and to secure the livelihoods of the population that traditionally subsisted on whales. The ban was a reason for Canada’s departure from IWC. Japan did so in 2018. Norway remains a member but does not recognize the moratorium and is now the world’s largest whaler. Of the 1,315 whales caught in 2021, 577 came from Norwegians.

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Denton Watson

"Friend of animals everywhere. Evil twitter fan. Pop culture evangelist. Introvert."

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