A Minke Whale caught by the whaling ship Sigurbjorg, near the port of Hofn in South West Iceland.
In January 2009, the Icelandic government resigned following widespread protests over its handling of the financial crisis. On his way out the door, outgoing Fisheries Minister Einar Gudfinnsson controversially announced a massive increase in Iceland's whaling quota - up to an annual quota of 100 minke whales and 150 fin whales over five years, a massive increase over the quota of 30 minke and 9 fin whales issued in October 2006.
This decision came following pressure from the ailing whaling industry, which in its desperation had latched onto the financial crisis, claiming that whaling was necessary to create jobs. In reality, the move was no more than a shameless and cynical stunt that has nothing to do with use of natural resources, and everything to do with politics.
International outcry ensued, with United States, Germany, Britain, France, Finland and Sweden calling on interim Icelandic Prime Minister Sigurdardottir to reverse the decision. On February 18th 2009, interim Icelandic fisheries minister Steingrímur Sigfusson announced that while he could not, due to legal reasons, undo Gudfinnsson's absurd move, the whaling industry should not automatically expect to receive a quota after 2009.
Iceland is one of the three countries still engaged in commercial whaling - along with Norway it has a reservation against the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling. In the past, Iceland used the same loophole of "scientific whaling" as Japan - really an excuse for commercial whaling. Iceland briefly returned to commercial whaling in 2006, and again in 2008, having ended its "scientific programme".
Much of the Icelandic whaling lobby's bullishness over whaling is based on claims of a buoyant open market for whale meat in Japan, following the recent export of whale meat from Iceland and Norway to Japan. The whaling lobby also claims that both significant export income and jobs would be created in Iceland if more whale meat was exported to Japan.
- The market for whale meat in Japan is weak, with over 3,000 tonnes of minke whale meat currently in frozen storage. The amount increases and decreases during the year, but has not dropped below 2300 tonnes for five years. One of Japan's leading newspapers, Asahi Shimbun, reported on 13 November 2008 that Japan's 'research' operation in the Antarctic was cutting its planned take from 935 minkes whales to 700 because of the low demand.
- The minke meat imported from Norway, which accompanied the exported Icelandic fin whale meat, as of January 2009 has still not cleared customs. Part of the fin whale shipment remains unsold, seven months after it was air-freighted to Japan.
- As well as minke whales, Japan produces meat from Sei whales caught in the North Pacific and from fin whales caught in the Antarctic. The catch of Sei whales in 2008 was 50, and much of the meat remains unsold. The quota of fin whales for the 2008-2009 year's hunt in the Antarctic is 50.
- Most whales caught by Japan in the North Pacific and all whales caught in the Antarctic are processed on board one factory ship, the Nisshin Maru. The company which operates the factory ship is in charge of marketing all whale meat from these operations and so controls the market. This company will not welcome competition from Iceland or Norway given that the market is already saturated and produce is hard to sell. The whaling company's first priority is to sell its own product - it is clearly unable to do so, as the backlog and the scaling back of 2008/2009 year's catch demonstrate.
- Whale imports are considered by the Japanese authorities on a case-by-case basis. Although one shipment from Iceland has been authorized, this does not mean that future shipments will be accepted.
Greenpeace - along with other countries, non-governmental organizations, and the Icelandic tourism industry - is urging the interim government - and the government that replaces following the April 2009 elections, to end whaling and instead focus on real solutions that promote the beauty of Iceland's environment - such as tourism and whale watching.
Whaling does not and will not benefit Iceland or the Icelandic economy. In fact, whaling has a negative affect on the Iceland brand and the general credibility of Iceland's image as a responsible country that upholds sustainable management of natural resources.
- Even a small increase in tourists going to Iceland for whale watching will create and secure more jobs and more money than whaling. In 2008, year about 115,000 people went whale watching in Iceland. Over 20 per cent of these stated whale watching as an important reason for coming to Iceland, spending millions of US dollars in revenue in the process. A further 115,000 people have signed a pledge stating that they will consider visiting Iceland if Iceland stops whaling.
- Tourism in general and whale watching in particular promote the beauty of Iceland's environment, and are worth far more to the Icelandic economy than whaling is or ever can be. The image of Iceland as an industrial whaling nation, in the business of catching whales and shipping them around the world for consumption as luxury goods, will certainly not help promote tourism or Iceland's image internationally.
Iceland's future government must not only reverse the appalling decision made by the departed fisheries minister; it must end commercial whaling for good.
Whaling belongs in the past.