Uncertainty Over Whaling as Iceland Welcomes New Minister Skip to content

Uncertainty Over Whaling as Iceland Welcomes New Minister

By Ragnar Tómas

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf
Photo: Golli. A whale at Hvalur hf.’s whaling station in 2015.

A union leader has stated that it would be a “complete humiliation” if the Progressive and Independence Parties had failed to ensure the resumption of whaling amid the recent reshuffling of ministries. In 2019, the new Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries was outspoken in her opposition to the practice, emphasising sustainability and the potential risk to Iceland’s tourism industry.

A “complete humiliation” if whaling was not ensured

In an interview with Morgunblaðið, Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of the Akranes Labour Union (Verkalýðsfélag Akraness), has stated that it would be “a complete humiliation” for the Progressives and the Independence Party if it were revealed they had not secured the allowance of whaling to resume during the recent Ministry reshuffling following the PM’s resignation.

In the interview, Vilhjálmur expressed deep concerns that the new Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, would share the same stance as her predecessor, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, on the issue and deny Hvalur’s application for a renewed whaling licence.

Listen to an episode on Whaling in the Deep North podcast.

“According to my information, Hvalur submitted a request to the Ministry in January. It took the ministry one and a half months to respond, requesting various explanations. Hvalur replied before Easter and has yet to receive an answer on whether whaling will be permitted this summer or not,” Vilhjálmur stated.

He firmly believes that the Progressives and the Independence Party – who were “very vocal” when Svandís postponed whaling and expressed their support for the practice – had ensured that whaling would be allowed in the new government agreement. “If not, it would be a total humiliation for the Progressives and the Independence Party,” Vilhjálmur maintained.

As noted by Vísir, Jón Gunnarsson, a member of parliament for the Independence Party, is likewise confident that the new Minister will allow whaling. Bjarkey, however, declined to comment on the matter yesterday, other than stating she has yet to formally take over the Ministry and meet with its staff.

Unequivocal about her position in 2019

As noted in a separate article in Vísir, Bjarkey was unequivocal about her position on whaling during a parliamentary session in February 2019. At the time, Bjarkey stated that the decision by Kristján Þór Júlíusson, a member of parliament for the Independence Party and then the Minister of Fisheries, to continue allowing whaling had “disappointed her.”

“There is little to suggest that whaling will ever return to its former status in the economy, and even less chance that such activities will gain recognition from international environmental organisations,” Bjarkey observed.

“In my view, the fundamental premise for the utilisation of natural resources should be based on sustainability, as the government has repeatedly emphasised. As long as there are no foreseeable markets for whale meat, it can be assumed that the practice will not be sustainable … we should not risk endangering one of our most important industries, which is tourism; we cannot afford it,” Bjarkey is quoted as having stated in 2019.

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