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.

139 Fin Whales Hunted During Whaling Season

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Five fin whales were hunted this week and towed into Hvalfjörður fjord. A total of 139 whales were caught this whaling season by the company Hvalur hf, Mbl.is reports.

Five fin whales caught this week

As reported by Iceland Review earlier this year, two whaling ships owned by the company Hvalur hf. set off from Reykjavík harbour on June 22 this summer to begin the whaling season. No commercial whaling had taken place in Iceland for four years (although a single minke whale was hunted in 2021.)

By the start of September, 100 fin whales had been caught. Four weeks later, after a spell of fine weather, 39 additional whales had been hunted – with five of those being towed into Hvalfjörður fjord this week.

“What’s noteworthy this time around,” Elín B. Ragnarsdóttir, Division Head of Fishing Supervision with the Directorate of Fisheries, told Mbl.is, “is that inspectors from the Directorate of Fisheries have been aboard all whaling ships since August 24 and have supervised the hunting of fin whales on behalf of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). Until August 24, inspectors were on board the whaling ships and supervised the hunting of about 15% of the whales.”

When asked if any complaints had been filed on behalf of the Directorate of Fisheries, Elín gestured towards MAST: “The supervision that is carried out today is largely in the hands of the Food and Veterinary Authority, given that animal-welfare issues fall within their purview. A summary of the Directorate of Fisheries’ supervision is being prepared but is not ready for publication.”

Whaling season usually concludes at the end of September (although it depends on the weather).

Only one whaling season to go?

Earlier this year, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated she saw little reason to permit whaling after Hvalur hf.’s current licence expires in 2023. In an op-ed published in the Morgunblaðið newspaper, Svandís wrote that there was little evidence that whaling was economically beneficial to Iceland. She also noted that the controversial nature of the practice has a negative impact on Iceland, though it may be hard to measure. The minister concluded by saying that the government would carry out an assessment on the potential economic and social impact of whaling this year.

Elkem Production Halted Following Major Fire, Staff Prevent More Serious Damage

Firefighters 112

A major fire broke out at the Elkem silicon plant in Grundartangi last night. Although no injuries were reported, the accident was serious enough to call the entire fire brigades of both Akranes and Hvalfjörður, reports RÚV. 

One of Elkem’s three furnaces was affected, but more serious damage was prevented by the staff.

Álfheiður Ágústsdóttir, CEO of Elkem, stated that as of now, the exact cause of the fire is unclear, but that an investigation is under way. Admitting that the incident represents a setback, Álfheiður hopes that production will be halted for no more than a week for repairs. And of course, she notes, the most important thing is that no one was injured.

The fire began around 2:00 AM last night, but the fire was largely contained by the staff before the arrival of the fire brigade.

Initial reports indicate that the fire broke out in the so-called tapping platform. Any criminal activity has been ruled out.

MAST Warns Against Mussel Collection This Summer

Hvalfjörður mussels

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has issued a warning against the collection and consumption of mussels from Hvalfjörður fjord in West Iceland, just half an hour outside of Reykjavík. Diarrhetic Shellfish Poison, or DSP, algae toxins have been identified in the mussels in higher concentrations than is safe for human consumption.

According to measurements taken by MAST on May 4 at Fossá in Hvalfjörður, collected mussels contained 260 µg/kg DSP; the maximum level of DSP for safe human consumption is 160 µg/kg. As the toxicity level is so high, it is expected that Hvalfjörður mussels will be unsafe for human consumption all summer.

As indicated by the name, DSP toxins can cause diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms occur quickly after consumption and should pass in a few days.

MAST also monitors aquaculture in Iceland and says there is no reason for people to avoid domestically farmed mussels.