Administrative Fine Imposed on Hvalur After Welfare Law Breach

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Iceland’s only whaling company has been fined ISK 400,000 ($2,900 / €2,700) for violating animal welfare laws by delaying a necessary follow-up shot on a fin whale in September of 2023. This breach of regulations led to a temporary suspension of the company’s whaling activities last year.

Fin whale shot outside designated target area

On September 14, the operations of a whaling vessel owned by Iceland’s sole whaling company, Hvalur hf, were temporarily halted due to alleged breaches of animal welfare laws. The suspension followed an incident on September 7 where a crew member shot a fin whale “outside the designated target area,” resulting in the animal not dying immediately. The whale was subsequently shot again nearly half an hour later.

Recent regulations mandate an immediate follow-up shot if the initial attempt does not result in the animal’s death. The vessel was docked for eight days following this incident, during which representatives from Hvalur hf. made improvements to the ship to obtain permission to resume hunting.

A statement on the website of the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) notes the following: “The company violated animal welfare laws during whale hunting by allowing thirty minutes to pass between the first and second shots. The animal died a few minutes after the second shot. According to the regulations on whale hunting, a follow-up shot must be carried out immediately if the animal does not die from the first shot. The administrative fine is ISK 400,000 ($2,900 / €2,700).”

Other companies also fined

Other companies also received administrative fines, including an ISK 160,000 ($1,200 / €1,000) fine imposed on a slaughterhouse in Southwest Iceland for leaving a pig with a broken leg in a slaughter pen over an entire weekend before it was slaughtered, an ISK 120,000 ($870 / €800) fine for delaying the veterinary care of a sick cat that was later euthanised, and an ISK 418,000 ($3,000 / €2,800) fine on an aquaculture company in East Iceland for improper euthanasia of farmed fish.

As reported in January, Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, citing significant financial losses due to a temporary whaling ban imposed by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir last year. The claim, supported by the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s conclusion that the ban lacked legal basis, seeks compensation for the company and its employees.

Record Population Growth Last Year – 400,000 Milestone in Sight

Locals and tourists enjoy the sunshine in Reykjavík's Austurvöllur square.

Iceland’s population rose by 11,500 in 2022, potentially reaching 400,000 this year, according to a report from the Housing and Construction Authority. The proportion of working immigrants in the national labour market has quadrupled since 2003.

On course to reach 400,000 by end of the year

Iceland’s population increased by 11,500 last year, marking the most significant growth since records began. According to a monthly report of the Housing and Construction Authority, this growth trend has continued in 2023; in the first six months of the year, the country’s population increased by 1.7%. If this trend continues, the increase this year will surpass last year’s, with Iceland’s population reaching 400,000 by year-end.

The report also notes that foreign nationals currently compose nearly 18% of the population or over 70,000 individuals. Furthermore, foreign nationals constitute about 30% of the age group between 26-36 years. The institution notes that, based on tax data, the proportion of working immigrants in the Icelandic labour market has quadrupled since 2003, rising from just over 5% to over 20% last year.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Katrín Ólafsdóttir, an associate professor at the University of Reykjavik, stated that since the tourism sector began its rapid growth, there had been a strong correlation between Iceland’s economic growth and the number of foreign nationals: “The correlation was much weaker in the years before, but the last ten years show a very strong link.”

Foreign nationals nearly 50% of the unemployed

While working immigrants in the Icelandic labour market have quadrupled since 2003, the proportion of foreign nationals among the country’s unemployed population has also seen a sharp increase in recent years, now reaching nearly 50%.

Speaking to RÚV, Unnur Sverrisdóttir, Head of the Directorate of Labour, expressed concerns about this trend, noting that various measures had been tried without the desired success. Unnur speculated that several factors may be contributing to the trend, including language proficiency and challenges related to childcare, especially for single mothers who might not have the same support system as native Icelanders.

Unnur also emphasised the need for a better understanding of the issue and highlighted potential gaps in educational opportunities for younger foreign nationals in Iceland, especially those who aren’t proficient in Icelandic.

300,000 Tourists to Visit Ísafjörður Next Summer Via Cruise Ships

Approximately 300,000 tourists are expected to arrive in Ísafjörður via cruise ships next summer, RÚV reports. Receiving so many tourists is a “challenge,” the mayor of Ísajförður has stated, with many residents keeping entirely out of the downtown area during the busiest periods.

Mass arrivals to test infrastructure

Ísafjörður, located in Iceland’s Westfjords, is a town of roughly 3,000 residents.

Next summer, tourists – numbering ten times the town’s population – are expected to arrive in Ísafjörður via cruise ships. A total of 218 ships, carrying 245,000 passengers (excluding crew members) have announced their arrival.

During a 35-day period next summer, RÚV notes, 3,000 visitors are expected to arrive in Ísafjörður every day. “8,200 tourists are expected to arrive in town during one particular day.”

In an interview with RÚV published this morning, Arna Lára Jónsdóttir, Mayor of Ísafjörður, added the caveat that experience had shown that there were always a few cancellations. “Nonetheless, this is a record number of arrivals, which will greatly test our infrastructure. That much is clear.”

Avoid the downtown area completely

As noted in RÚV’s article, the port dues paid by cruise ships have become the main source of income for Ísafjörður harbour, which also comprises the harbours of Þingeyri, Flateyri, and Suðureyri.

(The Ísafjarðarbær municipality was founded in 1996 with the merger of six municipalities in the northern Westfjords: the districts of Þingeyri, Mýri, Mosvellir, Flateyri, Suðureyri, and Ísafjörður).

By directing traffic through these four harbours, the municipality would be able to ease the burden. “Those passengers that arrive here, go all the way to Arnarfjörður, to Dynjandi, or here into Djúpið. So we’re able to distribute the burden, so to speak,” Arna Lára observed, noting that the numerous arrivals presented an opportunity for the travel industry – although it was important not to overdo it.

“There are many residents who monitor arrivals at the harbour; they may decide to avoid the downtown area completely in the event that there are four or five cruise ships arriving.”

Arna Lára added that Ísafjörður was a fishing town and that the fishing industry needed its space: “We’ve got to strike a balance. But there are many days in Ísafjörður where we’re completely booked.”

30,000 New Apartments Needed to Meet Demand

apartments downtown Reykjavík housing

An estimated 30,000 new apartments are needed in Iceland over the next decade to meet expected demand. Despite a record number of apartments having been constructed last year, the demand has only increased, according to the Housing and Construction Authority.

500 more apartments than originally estimated

At the beginning of 2021, the Housing and Construction Authority published a report on housing demand in Iceland. The original report estimated that 3,950 apartments would need to be constructed by the end of the year to maintain stability in the housing market. With the population growing at a quicker rate than previously expected, however, the Authority has updated its report, revising its estimate to 4,450 apartments.

In an interview with Vísir, Karlotta Halldórsdóttir – an economics specialist with the Housing and Construction Authority – stated that the demand for housing in Iceland was relatively high. “We are constructing approximately 3,000 apartments annually, which is quite good. However, its speaks to a considerable shortage, the fact that approximately 4,500 apartments are needed this year to meet demand.” Karlotta added that this shortage did not mean homelessness but rather that young adults would be living at home with their parents for longer, or that more individuals would be residing in non-residential buildings or unauthorised housing.

A shortage of plots

According to Karlotta, contractors have complained of a shortage of building sites, which municipalities must provide. “A shortage of plots is inhibitory to the construction of apartments. It appears as if contractors are capable of building more but that the paucity of land makes it difficult.”

A record number of new apartments were constructed last year, approximately 3,800. “In reality, it’s not the pace of construction; it’s just that there is great demand these days,” Karlotta remarked. Despite this increased demand, Karlotta encouraged buyers to remain patient.

“I think it’s important for buyers not to rush. More apartments will become available. We’re seeing a rise in prices, which most likely originates with a lack of supply, but buyers should take their time, as opposed to rushing to buy.”

Increased demand for larger homes

Earlier this month, RÚV reported that Landsbankinn’s Department of Economics had predicted a 10.5% increase in real-estate prices in 2021 compared to last year. Þorsteinn Arnalds, Director of the Housing and Construction Authority, stated that this increase was to be attributed to lower interest rates. Þorsteinn added that the pandemic has seen increased demand for larger, single-family homes.

“It’s clear that single-family homes, especially larger homes, have seen a rise in prices. Maybe this owes to the increased need for better and roomier housing following social restrictions. I don’t expect this trend to change in the capital area, as we don’t expect the supply of single-family homes to increase in the immediate future; it’s mainly apartment buildings that are being constructed.