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Iceland to resume whaling

6th August 2003


The Icelanders want to know how many fish
the minkes are taking (Image by IFAW)

Iceland announced on Wednesday its intention to resume whaling this month.

It said it would take 38 minkes this year, in August and September, from waters around the island to study the mammals' impact on fish stocks.

The country's whaling commissioner told BBC News Online that with 43,000 minkes currently in Icelandic waters, the "scientific catch" would have no impact on the species' status.

"It's obvious to anyone that whales are very big animals and they eat a lot - a lot of fish," Stefan Asmundsson said.

"Precisely the effect they are having on fish stocks around Iceland, we don't know. We need better data."

Scaled back

Iceland has not hunted whales since 1989. It left the International Whaling Commission, the body that regulates world whaling, in 1992 but rejoined in 2002, voting for its own readmission, which was approved by a majority of one.

BBC News Online's guide to the key species
in the whale-hunting debate

It rejoined on condition that it was allowed to register its objection to the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1986.

Earlier this year, it said it wanted to take 100 minke, 100 sei and 50 fin whales.

It said the high dependence of Iceland's economy on fishing meant it had to have a better understanding of all the factors that might impact fish stocks - including whales.

The original proposal was discussed at the recent Berlin meeting of the IWC - but not voted on.

Whale products

Mr Asmundsson said Iceland's decision not to implement the
full proposal - to take a limited number of minke only -
showed the republic wanted to be constructive on whaling
issues and could compromise with those who opposed its

"A lot of people tend to oppose whaling because they see
whales as endangered animals that should not be hurt," he said.

Iceland will not take fin whales - yet
(Image by NOAA)

"We agree with the idea that endangered animals should not be taken but what we're talking about here is an abundant [minke] stock that has been internationally acknowledged; and it is a stock that is having a significant impact on the marine ecosystem it is living in."

The carcasses of the captured whales will be processed for sale in the Icelandic market after they have been studied, a statement from the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries said.

But it added that the costs of the scientific programme would far outweigh any revenue generated by the sale of those whale products.

Eco-tourism impact

Anti-whaling groups were quick to criticise Iceland's decision.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw)
said the country could not use science to camouflage
its real desire to resume commercial whaling.

The organisation's UK branch immediately sent a
deputation to demonstrate outside the country's
embassy in London.

"Iceland has a great deal to lose by going whaling,"
IFAW’s UK campaigner Della Green.

The announcement sparked a demonstration in London
(Image by IFAW)

"Its fast growing whale-watching industry, currently worth around 5m a year, is likely to suffer as a result.

"There is absolutely no scientific basis for these whales to be killed. Whales already face constant threat from pollution, entanglement in fishing nets, habitat loss and other dangers.

"It is very likely that the whales Iceland intends to slaughter are also visitors to the Scottish coast."

Ifaw said the move ignored recent international efforts to strengthen conservation measures for whales in the IWC and worldwide.

The Icelandic Tourist Industry Association (ITIA) is opposed to whaling.

The association, whose members include the country's main airline, Icelandair, represents probably 80-90% of Iceland's turnover from tourism.

It said earlier this year: "Whale-watching has become one of the most popular tourist activities in Iceland, providing considerable income for the economy, as well as creating a very positive image for Iceland."

It said this image would be damaged by a return to whaling.