A recent report on the economic impact of whaling has incited criticism and accusations of bias, RÚV reports. A primary point of contention is that the report characterises nature conservation groups as terrorist organisations and suggests that Icelandic legislators should perhaps consider levying anti-terrorist legislation against them, as is done in other countries.
The report was co-authored by economist Oddgeir Ágúst Ottesen at the Institute of Economic Studies. Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson expressed some disbelief about the terrorist characterisation and said that it made him wonder about the authors’ personal motivations. Moreover, he says that he has some doubts about the correlations that the report draws.
Rannveig Grétarsdóttir, the CEO of whale watching company Elding and the chair of the Whale Watching Association of Iceland, leveled similar critiques earlier in the week during a current events TV program where she and Oddgeir debated the report and its claims. Rannveig didn’t mince words, calling the report one-sided propaganda.
“There is a lot of propaganda in the report,” said Rannveig, continuing by saying that its findings read like foregone conclusions. It discussed the impact of whale watching on whaling, but not the reverse, she said, and neglected to get the opinion of anyone in the whale watching industry.
“It’s very strange,” she said. “I have 40% of the whale watching in the country and am the chair of the Whale Watching Association, and no one talked to me.” Oddgeir contested this, saying that he had spoken to staff at whale watching companies.
Doesn’t have to be one or the other
Oddgeir also dismissed the claim that whaling’s low profit margin and the overall negative press earned by the industry should be taken into account when considering whether or not to allow whaling to continue.
“It doesn’t really matter for society what the [company’s] earnings are. It doesn’t hurt society as a whole that the [whaling] company pays good wages and turns a small profit,” he said, versus a scenario in which the company made substantial profits but paid low wages. Oddgeir continued by saying that tourism in Iceland had continued to flourish in spite of the fact that whaling has continued, and that whaling has has also not had an impact on the sale of Icelandic fish abroad.
Oddgeir rejected the accusation that he’d written the report with a particular agenda and had already made his mind up about the conclusions he’d draw before he even finished it. He said that it wasn’t a matter of choosing one thing over the other: “Whale watching can absolutely continue, even if there is whaling.”
The report asserts that should whaling continue, there would be a 40% increase in Icelandic export revenue, as a result of there being more fish in the country’s coastal waters. This assertion goes far beyond what other organisations, such as the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, have been willing to state in regards to the whaling industry’s sustainability. For instance, Gísli Víkingsson, a marine biologist at the Marine Institute, said that he believes that whaling is sustainable, but said that he thinks it’s wrong for people to kill whales in order to increase the fish stock. The claim about increased export potential also rings false to Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson.
“…I think we need to take a very close look at this part about the ecology of the ocean, where the conclusion drawn is that by hunting more whales, we increase the number of fish in the sea,” Guðmundur remarked. “[T]hey come to the conclusion that there’s a direct relationship between the two. Although there’s a connection, [the report] doesn’t take into account the costs that would result from starting to increase whaling, for example, as regards Iceland’s reputation.”