Two whaling ships owned by the company Hvalur hf. set off from Reykjavík harbour yesterday to begin the whaling season, RÚV reports. No commercial whaling has taken place in Iceland for four years, though a single minke whale was hunted in 2021. The whaling licence held by Hvalur hf. expires next year, and Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries has indicated that the practice of whaling may be discontinued in Iceland afterwards.
The whale hunting quota issued by Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute for this season is 161 fin whales and 217 minke whales. The quota is based on appraisals from the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission and the International Whaling Commission. According to RÚV, the number of fin whales in Icelandic waters has increased steadily since counting began in 1987. Its conservation status is nevertheless listed as “vulnerable” according to the CITES Appendix. As of 2018, the IUCN Red List places minke whales in the “least concern” category.
Conflict with Food and Veterinary Authority
The whale hunting season lasts from June until late September, and some 150 employees are expected to staff Hvalur hf.’s whaling ships, whaling station in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland, and their processing plant in Hafnarfjörður, in the capital area. Hvalur hf.’s CEO Kristján Loftsson has stated that the main reason for the company’s lack of activity since 2018 is conflict with Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority concerning the company’s whaling station. He has also previously cited poor market conditions for whale products and the COVID-19 pandemic as factors.
Hvalur hf. embroiled in controversy
Whaling company Hvalur hf. has been embroiled in several controversies in recent years. Public outcries followed when the company killed a pregnant fin whale and a rare hybrid whale in 2018. Hvalur hf. was at risk of losing their whaling licence after failing to submit captains’ logs for the 2014, 2015, and 2018 seasons. The company has been sued by three of its shareholders as well as by activists.
Iceland’s second-last whaling season?
Earlier this year, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated she sees little reason to permit whaling after Hvalur hf.’s current licence expires in 2023. In an op-ed published in Morgunblaðið newspaper, Svandís wrote that there is little evidence that whaling is economically beneficial to Iceland. She also pointed out that the controversial nature of the practice has a negative impact on Iceland, though it may be hard to measure. Svandís stated that the government would carry out an assessment on the potential economic and social impact of whaling this year.