Iceland Issues New Quota for Minkes and Fin Whales Skip to content

Iceland Issues New Quota for Minkes and Fin Whales

By Iceland Review

Outgoing Minister of Fisheries Einar K. Gudfinnsson of the Independence Party issued yesterday a whaling quota for up to 150 fin whales and 100 to 400 minkes in Icelandic waters for a five-year period. The move has received mixed reactions.

“I find this act by the outgoing minister of fisheries, in the last few moments of his job as minister, indicate irresponsibility and even lack of judgment,” Minister of the Environment Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir of the Social Democrats told Morgunbladid.

“A regulation on whaling until 2013 is being issued. As soon as this decision is reported abroad it will have a significant impact on the image of Iceland and discussions about the country,” Sveinbjarnardóttir added. “Considering the circumstances and Iceland’s position, among other things in terms of interacting with our neighboring states in Europe, the amendment to this regulation is questionable.”

Owner of Hvalur hf., Kristján Loftsson (left), and Minister of Fisheries Einar K. Gudfinnsson by a fin whale in Hvalfjördur in 2006. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.

Gudfinnsson published the following statement on the website on the Ministry of Fisheries yesterday:

“In 2006 Iceland resumed sustainable whaling of fin and minke whales. Since then quotas have been issued annually. Today the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture published a regulation setting a quota for the next five years. Setting catch limit for a five year period is in line with usual practice within the IWC [The International Whaling Commission]. According to the regulation the total allowable takes of fin and minke whales for the next five years will be according to scientific recommendations of the Marine Research Institute.”

The Icelandic Marine Research Institute has concluded that the size of the minke and fin whale stocks in Icelandic waters has been stable in recent years and even in a slow upswing. According to data collected in 2001, there were 43,000 minke whales around Iceland, the entire stock counting 67,000 animals, and 20,000 to 25,000 fin whales.

For many years the Marine Research Institute estimated that it was safe to hunt up to 400 minkes per year and 150 fin whales. However, a count in the summer of 2007 indicated that there were much fewer minkes in Icelandic waters than earlier believed, probably because the animals had relocated due of lack of food.

Considering the uncertainty surrounding the actual size of the minke whale stock, the Marine Research Institute decreased its recommendations for an annual minke quota to 100 animals, while the recommended hunting quota on fin whales remains at 150 animals per year. A new report on the condition of these whale stocks will be issued in May or early June.

Gudfinnsson said economic interests lie behind is decision. “All material prerequisites are at hand. It is based on whaling advisement from the Marine Research Institute and the legislation, both domestic and foreign, permits it. We have solved the problem with selling the products and I don’t believe there is reason to stand in the way of an honest industry like this taking place.”

In November 2008, the Japanese Ministry of Commerce issued an import permit for 60 tons of fin whale meat from Iceland, from whales that had been killed in fall 2006.

Icelandic whalers are preparing for the upcoming whaling season in spring. CEO of whaling company Hvalur hf., Kristján Loftsson, said he has been working on repairing his whaling station in Hvalfjördur. The company’s ships and freezing facilities also need improvements.

Minke whalers have joined forces and are planning to cooperate on whaling and processing the meat under the roof of one large company, Hrefnuveidimenn ehf. The company’s managing director, Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, said they plan to establish a large freezing facility in Akranes and rent a large boat for whaling.

“I welcome the ministry of fishery’s decision,” said Jón Gunnarsson, MP for the Independence Party. “For us to be able to practice whaling for real next summer we have to start preparing. Jobs will already be created during preparations […]. Then up to 300 new jobs will be created in relation to whaling and processing during the season.”

The Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners (LÍÚ) issued a statement yesterday, also welcoming the move. According to a resolution approved by LÍÚ last fall, sustainable whaling in consistency with proposals made by the Marine Research Institute will not endanger these whale stocks, as concluded by the scientific committee of the IWC. “Icelanders should protect its right to harness whale stocks in our waters,” the statement reads.

MP for the Left-Greens, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, said she will propose changes to Gudfinnsson’s decision on whaling if the Left-Greens and the Social Democrats are successful in forming a coalition government.

“It was an ill-advised move by the outgoing minister of fisheries. Whaling is immensely controversial, not to mention hunting the great whales,” Halldórsdóttir said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this can have considerably negative influences on discussions about us Icelanders, which is already very negative. I believe we have to be very careful in all of our relations with the international community.”

Sveinbjarnardóttir said it is likely that the new minister of fisheries from the ranks of either the Social Democrats or the Left-Greens will overturn Gudfinnsson’s decision.

However, questions have been raised on whether a new government has the legal authority annul the regulation.

Law professor Björg Thorarensen believes that while new rights for individuals have not been created because of the minister’s decision, it can be changed without the state being obligated to pay compensations. Thorarensen pointed out that she is only speculating since she does not have sufficient knowledge on this particular case.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get news from Iceland, photos, and in-depth stories delivered to your inbox every week!

* indicates required

Subscribe to Iceland Review

In-depth stories and high-quality photography showcasing life in Iceland!