Icelandic Whaling CEO Defends Suspended Vessel

Hvalur, whaling company,

In a recent interview with RÚV, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s only whaling company, defended a recent incident that led to the suspension of one of his vessels. Kristján cited mechanical failure and criticised the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) for its lack of expertise and procedural lapses.

Untenable situation

In a recent interview with the news programme Kastljós, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s sole whaling company, addressed questions concerning an incident that resulted in the suspension of operations for one of his whaling vessels.

Kristján explained that the incident on September 7 was accidental, involving a hook entangled in a winch. This mechanical failure left the harpooned whale alive and attached to the hook, with the crew unable to either reel it in or release it. “It was an untenable situation with no better course of action available,” Kristján stated.

He further argued that a video capturing the incident was misleading. “The footage, taken by an inspector from the Directorate of Fisheries, employed by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), utilised zoom features that distorted the actual distance of the whale from the vessel,” Kristján said. He contended that the whale was out of range for immediate euthanisation, making the suspension of the vessel’s activities based on the video unjust.

Kristján criticised MAST’s expertise, stating, “To my knowledge, the organisation lacks individuals with a comprehensive understanding of fishing.” He estimated that approximately 70% of MAST’s staff consists of general office workers and veterinarians. Kristján also claimed that MAST had failed to consult with the Directorate of Fisheries before making the decision to suspend operations, thereby violating its own protocols.

Fulfilling the quota impossible

When questioned about the likelihood of the suspension being lifted with only ten days remaining in the hunting season, Kristján Loftsson responded, “I’m loathe to peer into the brains of MAST’s employees. I refuse to do it.”

Kristján concluded by revealing his intention to apply for a new whaling licence once the current one expires. He also disclosed that the company has thus far hunted fifteen whales, approximately 10% of the total quota of around 160, acknowledging that fulfilling the quota is unlikely. While he confirmed experiencing significant financial losses, he declined to specify the amount.

Whaling Vessel Suspended for Violating Welfare Protocols

Whaling ships

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily suspended the operations of whaling vessel Hvalur 8 for violating animal welfare protocols during a fin whale hunt, Vísir reports. The suspension will remain in place until corrective measures are verified by MAST and the Directorate of Fisheries.

Suspension in effect until corrective measures are adopted

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily halted the operations of the whaling vessel Hvalur 8, citing severe breaches of animal welfare protocols during the capture of a fin whale.

According to a press release on MAST’s website, a monitoring operation revealed that the initial shot fired from Hvalur 8 on September 7 struck a fin whale “outside the designated target area,” resulting in the animal’s failure to expire immediately.

Per newly-established regulations, the animal should have been dispatched with a subsequent shot without delay. However, the follow-up shot was not administered until approximately 30 minutes later, leading to the animal’s death a few minutes thereafter. The delay constitutes a violation of both animal welfare laws and long-line fishing regulations, according to MAST’s statement.

As noted by MAST, the suspension will remain in effect until corrective measures have been implemented and verified by both Mast and the Directorate of Fisheries (i.e. Fiskistofa).

Whaling Season Begins in Iceland, Charges Pressed Against Activists

whaling in iceland

Iceland’s only active whaling company Hvalur hf. is set to begin the whaling season today, Vísir reports. Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries instituted a temporary ban on whaling earlier this year but lifted the ban at the end of August. Hvalur hf. has pressed charges against two activists who occupied their ships for around 33 hours, preventing them from heading out to sea. While the company is permitted to hunt whales once more, it is subject to stricter regulations and increased surveillance.

Hvalur presses charges against activists

Activists Anahita Babaei and Elissa Bijou, who climbed the masts of whaling ships Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9 in Reykjavík harbour early Monday morning, descended from their outposts yesterday afternoon. Police took Babaei’s backpack shortly after the ships were occupied, leaving her without food and water for the duration of the protest. Hvalur hf. has pressed charges against Babaei and Bijou for breaking and entering. The two were taken to the police station on Hverfisgata yesterday after they descended from the ships.

Police actions criticised by human rights experts

Chief Superintended of Police Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson told Vísir that Babaei’s backpack had been taken in order to shorten the protest and to increase the likelihood of it ending sooner. The move has been criticised, including by the director of the Icelandic Human Rights Centre and legal experts. Police stated throughout the protest that Babaei and Bijou could have food and water if they descended from the ships.

Whaling to be recorded on video

Kristján Loftsson, director of Hvalur hf., told Vísir yesterday that the company’s two ships, Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9, were on their way to the whaling station in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland to pick up equipment. He stated that they would head out to sea today, September 6. The ships are subject to increased surveillance and stricter regulations set by the Minister of Fisheries this month.

Elín Ragnarsdóttir, head of fishing surveillance at the Directorate of Fisheries, called the new regulations on surveillance “much broader and more detailed” than previous rules. She also stated that they included “a lot more record-taking, especially in terms of animal welfare.” She confirmed that all whaling conducted this season would be recorded on video.

Minister’s Temporary Whaling Ban Could Be Extended

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s temporary ban on whaling may be extended, Mbl.is reports. A ministry-organised working group is assessing the compliance of whaling with animal welfare and whaling laws.

Temporary ban announced

On June 20, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, announced a temporary halt to the hunting of fin whales until August 31. The decision was prompted by a specialist council’s report revealing non-compliance with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Mbl.is reports a ministry-organised working group will assess the compliance of whaling with animal welfare and whaling laws in the coming weeks: “From the time that regulation no. 642/​2023 was enacted, the ministry has deliberated on refining hunting methods and equipment for large whales to align with Act No. 55/2013 and Act No. 26/1949,” the Ministry’s answer reads.

The working group, following its assessment, is expected to offer alternatives or potential solutions to the ministry, indicating that the “temporary” ban might be extended if the group determines that current whaling practices can’t meet animal welfare laws.

Police Drop Blood Mare Investigation

Icelandic horse

Icelandic police have dropped the investigation into the treatment of mares during blood extraction, Bændablaðið reports. The ill-treatment of mares during the practice was first brought to light in 2021 by foreign animal welfare organisations.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) had previously investigated the treatment that appeared in a video that the animal welfare organisations AWF and TBZ published on YouTube in November 2021. MAST requested more information and unedited footage from the animal welfare organisations but did not receive it. A statement released by AWF/TBZ spokespersons in December 2021 said they would not hand over any unedited videos to MAST, but were willing to cooperate if a public investigation took place. MAST therefore referred the case to the police for further investigation at the end of January 2022.

The case was dismissed a year later, or at the end of January 2023, according to information from the South Iceland Police Department. The police repeatedly tried to obtain additional data from the animal protection organisations, which hid behind German laws that did not require them to hand over the data.

However, sources say that the representatives of the animal welfare organisations were in fact willing to hand over the data, but only if a legal request was made, in order to ensure the best evidentiary value of the data. Such a request was, however, never received from Iceland.

Since the 1980s, horse farmers in Iceland have been able to gain extra income by extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares. The hormone extracted from pregnant mares is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals. Only a handful of countries operate blood farms besides Iceland: Russia, Mongolia, China, Uruguay, and Argentina. Iceland tightened regulations on blood mare farms last year.

Reindeer Season to Continue as Normal

Reindeer hunting Iceland

Despite recommendations by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board to delay the 2023 reindeer hunting season, Vísir reports that the season will remain unchanged this year.

Reindeer hunting will start on July 15th and cow hunting on August 1st, as in previous years. Reindeer hunting will end September 15th and cow hunting on September 20th. The recommendation by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board was intended for the welfare of reindeer calves, specifically for orphaned calves during the winter. In the Advisory Board’s recommendation, reference was made to Norway, where the hunting season starts later.

Recent findings

However, according to Bjarni Jónasson at the Environment Agency of Iceland, the findings of a recent report did not present sufficient evidence to change the season. In a statement to Vísir, Bjarni said: “A comparison of the average winter mortality rate of calves before and after the protection of calves does not indicate that a higher proportion of motherless calves increases the overall winter mortality rate of calves. By shortening the hunting season and compressing the hunting activities, the hunting pressure on the herds could increase, which could have adverse effects on the animals.”

Bjarni also referred to a recent study from the East Iceland Natural Research Centre. The study found that “there is still no evidence that orphaned calves cannot survive and live through most winters. However, there is a risk that they might have a higher mortality rate than calves that accompany their mothers in harsh years. Such incidents have probably not occurred in the past decade unless very localised.”

Bjarni also repeated that all reindeer hunters are required to have an experienced guide with a valid permit from the Environment Agency. The guide directs the hunter in choosing the animal after observing the herd, allowing hunters to see if the calf is accompanying the cow or not.

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Full House for Meeting on Whaling Decision

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Members of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party demanded at a town hall meeting in Akranes last night, June 22, that Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Fisheries, reconsider her decision to temporarily halt whale hunting. RÚV reports.

The meeting in Akranes was called in response to the recent decision to halt the whale hunting season this year in light of animal welfare concerns. Svandís addressed the reasoning behind the recent decision, acknowledging that people have strong opinions on the matter.

Read More: No Whaling This Summer

“It is always important to base the discussion on facts, genuine knowledge, and reality, but it is natural for people to have strong emotions and heated debates,” the minister stated.

Regarding the short notice of the decision, she explained that she had to quickly assess the potential impact of the advisory board’s recommendations based on the latest report.

Read More: Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling  Ban

“Knowing this, I cannot let the season start, so I made the decision to postpone the beginning in order to attempt to establish better communication with stakeholders and those who are most knowledgeable,” she said.

Teitur Björn Einarsson, representative of the Independence Party, also spoke at the meeting, indicating that the minister’s recent decision may be illegal.

Svandís denied this, referring to the Ministry’s obligation to follow welfare guidelines.

Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling Ban

Páll Stefánsson. Whaling in Iceland, 2010

Local councils in West Iceland are urging the Minister of Fisheries to lift the ban on whaling implemented just one day before the season was set to begin. The last-minute decision has left some 200 employees of whaling company Hvalur hf. unexpectedly unemployed and will have a significant financial impact on the western region.

On June 20, Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir temporarily halted the hunting of fin whales until August 31. The decision followed on the heels of a report that found whaling breached Iceland’s animal welfare legislation. The ban was implemented to enable an investigation on whether it is possible to ensure that hunting conforms to the legislation.

Only one company, Hvalur hf., was set to hunt whales this season. The company is based in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland, and typically employs around 200 people, most from the region, at the height of the hunting season. Both the municipal council of Akranes and the local council of Hvalfjörður have encouraged the Fisheries Minister to lift the whaling ban.

Tax and income losses

The Municipal Council of Akranes (pop. 7,986) published a resolution criticising the timing of the decision. “The ban was unexpected and a curveball to many Akranes residents who were counting on employment and income during the summer whaling season,” the resolution reads. The council estimates that it will lose tens of millions of ISK (hundreds of thousands of dollars) in local tax income due to the decision, affecting its ability to finance services to residents. The council stated that the ministry should carry out investigations before making such an impactful decision, not the other way around.

The local council of Hvalfjörður has also published a short statement on the temporary whaling ban, stating that its financial impact is significant, both directly and indirectly. “Hvalfjörður’s local council is not taking a stance on whaling with this statement but urges the Minister of Food to reconsider her decision,” the statement concludes.

“No Legislative Means” to Stop Whaling this Summer

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated in a meeting with a parliamentary committee this morning that she considered her hands to be tied on the issue of stopping whaling this summer. Stating that there was “no legal basis” to revoke the existing whaling permits, she suggested that general laws on whale hunting need to be reviewed.

The Parliamentary Committee on Industry invited Svandís to discuss the long-awaited report on the 2022 whaling season. The report concluded that one in every four whales was shot more than once and that it was not possible to practice whale hunting while also conforming to animal rights legislation.

Hvalur hf., the only company in Iceland to still practice whaling, has already been granted a permit to hunt fin whales this summer, but calls have been made for the minister to revoke it following the report. Given the current legal framework, Svandís has stated that it is not a possibility.

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In the parliamentary meeting this morning, the minister stated that revoking the hunting permit would require a legal basis that does not currently exist.

According to administrative laws, the permit could only be revoked if certain conditions were present in its original issuance or if the revocation could be proved to cause no harm to the company. Neither condition was met in this case. Additionally, there are no provisions for revoking hunting permits in the 1949 laws on whale hunting. The minister has stated several times that her ability to act is constrained by these conditions.

Svandís stated that regardless of the outcome of the coming year’s whaling season, she believed that the laws on whale hunting were outdated and inadequate, and in need of revision to align with modern legislation and standards.

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No assessment has been made regarding possible damages that the state would have to compensate Hvalur hf. if the company’s hunting permit was revoked. However, Svandís stated that the ministry is currently examining the climate, environmental, and economic impacts of whaling to establish a more solid basis for future decisions on the hunts.

Other parliamentary representatives have suggested that the ministry restrict the hunts by limiting the timeframe in which they can occur. Svandís has yet to respond directly to this suggestion.

 

Whaling Licence Cannot Be Withdrawn, Says Minister

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir told RÚV it’s not possible to halt whaling this season, despite a report showing that the practice is not in line with legislation on animal welfare. Iceland’s only active whaling company, Hvalur hf., says it is developing two methods to make hunting more efficient, one that uses artificial intelligence and another that uses an electric current.

The report in question, newly released by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), showed that around one-third of whales studied did not die instantaneously when killed. Some 14 whales were shot more than once, while two whales had to be shot four times. The time it took the whales to die averaged 11.5 minutes but took nearly two hours in one case. One harpooned whale managed to escape after a five-hour chase.

No legal basis for withdrawing licence

The Minister called the report’s findings “shocking” and said it called for a re-evaluation of whaling in Iceland. “I find that this data indicates that this occupation is more a thing of the past than the future,” Svandís stated. Only one company, Hvalur hf., currently practices whaling in Iceland. Svandís stated that it is not possible to withdraw the company’s licence for the upcoming whaling season despite the report’s findings. “There needs to be a legal basis for yanking away this licence. That legal basis is not at hand, as far as I am informed in my ministry,” she stated. Svandís has previously indicated the government would not issue further whaling licences after the 2023 season.

Developing methods to make hunting more effective

In response to the MAST report, Hvalur hf. stated the company is developing two methods to make whaling more efficient. One method involves implementing artificial intelligence which should improve the accuracy of the harpoons. The other method involves killing the whales with an electric current if they don’t die instantaneously from the first harpoon. Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., made comments on 76 points in the report. The comments also refute the assumption that whales’ time of death equated to when they stopped moving, as animals can continue to move after death.

Hvalur hf. uses grenade-tipped harpoons to kill whales. They aim to penetrate about one metre into the whale and explode, releasing spring-loaded barbs into the flesh. According to the MAST report, this method kills around two-thirds of the animals instantly.