Iceland ends whaling as demand slacks

This aerial photo taken on August 2, 2021 shows a humpback whale diving in Hestfjorour (Westfjords), Iceland. Just off the north coast of Iceland,

Iceland, one of the few countries that still hunts whales commercially, said Friday it plans to end the practice from 2024 as demand for whale meat dwindles.

For the past three years, Iceland’s whalers have barely brought their boats into the North Atlantic, despite the country’s large quotas.

Demand for Icelandic whale meat has dropped dramatically since Japan – Iceland’s main market, particularly for fin whale meat – returned to commercial whaling in 2019 after a three-decade hiatus.

The expansion of a no-fishing coastal zone, requiring whalers to go further offshore, also made Icelandic hunting more expensive.

“There are few reasons to authorize whaling beyond 2024,” Fisheries Minister Svandis Svavarsdottir, a member of the Left Green Party, wrote in the Morgunbladid newspaper.

“There is little evidence that this activity has any economic benefit,” she said.

Iceland, Norway and Japan are the only countries to allow commercial whaling, despite criticism from animal rights and environmentalists, concerns about toxins in the meat and a shrinking market.

Iceland’s annual quotas for 2019-2023 allow for the hunting of 209 fin whales – the planet’s second largest species after the blue whale and considered endangered – and 217 minke whales, one of the smallest species.

– Slowdown of the pandemic –

But in the last three years, Iceland’s two main license holders have suspended their whaling hunts, and one of them, IP-Utgerd, has hung up his spearguns for good in 2020.

Only one whale has been killed in the last three years – a minke whale in 2021.

Other problems have also made whaling more difficult.

Safety requirements for imported meat are stricter than for domestic products, making Icelandic exports difficult.

Social distancing restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic also prevented Icelandic whale meat processing plants from performing their duties.

In Iceland’s last full season in 2018, 146 fin whales and six minke whales were killed.

Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2003 despite a 1986 IWC moratorium to which both Iceland and Norway objected.

In neighboring Norway, whalers have had similar experiences to Iceland in recent years, struggling to meet their quotas.

The number of boats participating in the hunt also continues to shrink.

In 2021, 575 whales were harpooned in Norway by the 14 boats still operating, less than half the authorized quota.

In Iceland, whales don’t end up as steaks on the plate, but have become the stars of a thriving ecotourism scene in recent years.

More than 360,000 whale watchers flocked to Iceland’s North Atlantic waters to admire the majestic creatures in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic paralyzed the tourism sector.

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