Letter on whaling to new Icelandic government from Greenpeace International Executive Director

Press release - February 3, 2009
On 28 January, Greenpeace reacted to the increase in whaling quota by the outgoing Icelandic fisheries minister as "a shameless stunt that has nothing to do with use of natural resources, and everything to do with politics". [1]

On 3 February, the new Icelandic interim government announced that it will be reviewing the increased whaling quota by the former fisheries minister, and that a decision would be announced in the coming days. Iceland's whaling industry has been informed that a change to last week's announcement may be imminent. 

Greenpeace welcomes this move by the new government, and hopes that it not only reverses the decision - but ends Icelandic whaling entirely.

Greenpeace also hopes that the new government finds useful the information contained in a letter from Greenpeace International Executive Director Dr. Gerd Leipold, sent on 2 February. The letter details why whaling is bad for Iceland and will not solve any of the country's economic problems. It also counters the claims of the whaling lobby that a large market exists, while pointing out that tourism in general, and whale watching in particular represents a far more viable financial future for Iceland.

Dr. Leipold's letter was sent to:

Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir

Minister for Finance, Fisheries and Agriculture, Steingrímur J. Sigfússon

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Industry, Energy and Tourism, Össur Skarphéðinsson

Minister for the Environment, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir

The text of this letter is included below:

My Greenpeace colleagues and I, and the conservation community as a whole, are surprised and deeply disappointed to learn that the outgoing Minister for Fisheries has announced a massive increase in Iceland's whaling quota that will see hundreds of minke whales and endangered fin whales hunted over the next five years. This is a very unwise decision, which will provide no economic benefit to Iceland, and I hope it will be quickly reversed.

The outgoing Minister for Fisheries appears to have been influenced by a recent campaign by supporters of whaling in Iceland, which began with an advertisement in Frettabladid and Morgunbladid on January 9th, headlined 'Let's start whaling'. Follow-up stories appeared in the international press, leaving the impression that there is an open and burgeoning market for whale meat in Japan, with good prices being paid. They claim both significant export income and job creation. These claims and assumptions are wrong.

  • 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 November 13th last year that Japan's 'research' operation in the Antarctic was cutting its planned take from 935 minkes to 700, because of the low demand.
  • The minke meat from Norway, which accompanied the exported Icelandic fin whale meat, 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 this 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 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 product is hard to sell. The whaling company's first priority is to sell its own product - they are clearly unable to do so, as the backlog and the scaling back of this 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.
  • Over 90% of the meat to be produced by the increased quota would come from endangered fin whales which are not eaten in Iceland and are only caught for export. 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.

As Iceland looks to the future I urge you to keep two points in mind:

  • Even a small increase in tourists going to Iceland for whale watching will create and secure more jobs and more money than whaling. Last year about 115,000 people went whale watching in Iceland. Over 20% of these stated whale watching as an important reason for coming to Iceland, spending millions of US$ 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.
  • Whaling belongs to the past and I hope the outgoing Minister's decision can be quickly reversed by Iceland's new government.

Thank you for your attention,

Yours truly,

Gerd Leipold

Executive Director Greenpeace International

Other contacts: Dave Walsh, Greenpeace International Communications, in Dublin, +353872207023Sara Holden, Greenpeace International Whales Campaign coordinator, in Amsterdam, +31 615007406 Martin Norman, Greenpeace Nordic Media, in Oslo, +47 95804950

Notes: [1] The full statement can be found here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/greenpeace-condemns-iceland-s