Whaling Ban Lifted in Iceland

hvalur whaling in iceland

The hunting of fin whales will be permitted in Iceland once more, though with stricter requirements and increased supervision, according to a notice from the Icelandic government. Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir will issue a new regulation on whaling today. Svandís instituted a temporary ban on whaling on animal welfare grounds on June 20, one day before the whaling season was set to begin.

New regulation responds to report on animal welfare

Svandís’ new regulation takes into account the surveillance report of Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) on the 2022 whaling season, a report authored by a council of specialists on animal welfare that found that whaling methods do not comply with Iceland’s Act on Animal Welfare, and a report from a working group that proposes ways to reduce the number of aberrations during whaling.

The working group submitted its report on August 28, and concluded that there were “grounds for making changes to the hunting method that can contribute to a reduction in the number of aberrations during hunting and this increased animal welfare,” according to the government notice.

The notice states that the coming whaling regulation will include “detailed and stricter requirements for fishing equipment, fishing methods, and increased supervision. The requirements concern training, education, fishing equipment and fishing methods.” The regulation will not allow for the use of electricity during the killing of whales as “various question remain unanswered regarding the possible effectiveness and effects of electricity during killing” according to the findings of the working group. MAST and Fisheries Iceland will be responsible for monitoring whaling and are to send a report to the Ministry of Fisheries at the end of the 2023 whaling season.

Whaling ban a source of tension

Whaling has been highly controversial in Iceland in recent years, with members of the public, activists, and local and international celebrities calling on Icelandic authorities to put a halt to the practice. In February 2022, Svandís wrote in an op-ed that she saw little justification to continue the practice of whaling once current licences expire. The temporary ban has, however, been a source of tension within the government coalition of the Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party, and the Progressive Party.

Iceland’s Emissions from International Transport Up 95% in 2022

cruiseship, skemmtiferðaskip

Iceland’s direct emissions of greenhouse gases remained unchanged between 2021 and 2022. Emissions from industry grew by 2% while emissions from international transport increased by 95% between 2021 and 2022. These are preliminary figures on Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions for 2022 from the Environment Agency of Iceland.

The Icelandic government has set the goal of decreasing Iceland’s direct emissions by 55% in 2030 as compared to emissions in 2005. The government itself has an aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040, as do the City of Reykjavík, the National Power Company of Iceland, and the National Church of Iceland.

Read More: Iceland’s Plan to Become Carbon Neutral by 2040

The emissions Iceland is directly responsible for have decreased by 12% since 2005 but remained unchanged between 2021 and 2022. Emissions from fish meal factories by a dramatic 485% due to electricity cuts which led factories to use backup generators. Emissions from electricity and heating rose by 230% due to the use of backup generators and emissions from road transport increased by 8% due to increased sale of fuel.

Icelandic agriculture showed a 2% drop in emissions between 2021 and 2022 due to a decrease in the number of sheep, while fishing ships showed a 16% decrease in emissions due to purchasing less fuel within Iceland. It is not clear whether the ships purchased more fuel abroad as a result.

Road transport single largest source of emissions

Proportionally speaking, road transport is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in Iceland, accounting for 33% of the emissions Iceland is directly responsible for. Agriculture comes in second at 21.5% and fishing ships are in third place at 17.3%. Landfilling of waste comes in at 7.1%, geothermal power stations at 6.8%, cooling equipment at 4.6%, and equipment and machines at 2.1%. This leaves 7.5% of emissions coming from other sources.

Industry and international travel not calculated in direct emissions

Iceland’s emissions which are within the EU emissions tradings system have increased by 120% since 2005 and by 2% from the previous year. The biggest increase in emissions between 2021 and 2022 in this category (9%) was due to increased silicon metal production.

Emissions from international transport increased by 95% between 2021 and 2022 following the lifting of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, emissions from international transport as a whole have not reached the same level as before the pandemic. The release amounted to over 1 million tonnes of CO2 in 2022 while it was over 1.5 million tonnes in 2018.

International transport includes international flights and international shipping. Emissions are calculated based on fuel purchased in Iceland for planes and ships that are on their way from Iceland.

Farmed Salmon Caught in Rivers Across Northwest Iceland

aquaculture farm iceland

Escaped farmed salmon may be swimming in at least eight salmon fishing rivers in Northwest Iceland and the Westfjords. Farmed salmon pose a threat to the survival of wild salmon in Iceland. Two holes were found on a salmon farm net in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords earlier this month. Authorities are conducting DNA analysis to determine whether fish caught in the rivers came from the Patreksfjörður farm.

Risk of genetic mixing

“Just in the last few days the reports have been pouring in and we seem to have at least eight confirmed cases, in eight different fishing areas, and that is a serious matter. And it remains to be confirmed through samples and research if or where these farmed salmon are from, but these are experienced anglers and guides who have handled these fish and it seems quite clear that this is the case,” Gunnar Örn Petersen, the CEO of The Federation of Icelandic River Owners (Landssamband veiðifélaga) told RÚV.

Gunnar says the salmon that have been caught are similar in size to those that were in the salmon farm in Patreksfjörður, though they could be fry that escaped from the sea pen in Arnarfjörður in 2021. He called the situation the environmental disaster that the federation has warned of since open-net fish farms began operating in Iceland.

“Whether we are talking about the diseases or massive death [of fish in the farms] or salmon lice beyond all limits and now it seems to be happening right here in front of your eyes that genetic mixing is happening. And genetic mixing is irreversible damage that no countermeasures can prevent and that we can’t reverse. It is therefore clear that open-net sea farming will be the final blow for Icelandic salmon stocks if the government doesn’t take the reins.” As many as 3,500 salmon may have escaped from the Patreksfjörður farm, which is owned by company Arctic Sea Farm.

Escaped salmon not unexpected, says fisheries spokesperson

Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland, stated that escaped salmon in Icelandic rivers were “not unexpected. The fact that salmon enter a salmon fishing river does not mean genetic mixing,” she argued. “The fact that salmon mixes with wild salmon in some cases does not mean that the wild population is endangered. This has to be a sustained significant situation not just for a year but for decades,” she stated in a Kastljós interview.

Heiðrún says that the risk assessment of genetic mix states that the percentage of farmed salmon in Icelandic rivers can go up to 4% without endangering the wild salmon populations. According to Heiðrún, the percentage across Iceland is currently 0.09%. Gunnar Örn argued that the percentage of farmed salmon in some smaller rivers has, however, reached 4%, “and of course, we believe that those salmon stocks are also important.”