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.

Hvalur Seeks Whaling License Renewal Amid Legal Claim

Whaling ships

Hvalur hf. has requested a five-year renewal of its whaling licence, highlighting its constitutionally protected employment rights. The company emphasises its advancements in whaling technology and methods, expecting a prompt decision on its application.

Claim filed against the Icelandic state

Last week, Hvalur hf., Iceland’s only active whaling company, 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. The ban took effect on June 20, 2023, and remained in place until September 1 of the same year.

Read More: Sea Change (from Iceland Review magazine)

In addition to the lawsuit, Hvalur hf. has also filed for a renewal of its whaling licence for the next five years, with a formal request having been sent to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture yesterday, Mbl.is reports.

In the request, Hvalur hf. refers to the aforementioned opinion by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, emphasising the company’s constitutional employment rights, a freedom that can only be restricted by parliamentary legislation.

As noted by Mbl.is, Hvalur maintains that the company has worked on and invested in the development and improvement of whaling equipment and methods, based on technological innovations and advancements in the field. “This work has led to significant and positive changes in the last whaling season,” the application claims.

The company expects a prompt response to their licence renewal application.

Hvalur Files Claim Against Icelandic State Over Whaling Ban

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

The whaling company 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.

A right to claim damages

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, asserting that the decision to temporarily ban the hunting of fin whales last year — which was made by Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir — had resulted in substantial revenue loss and financial expenditures, RÚV reports.

The claim was sent to the State’s Attorney after the Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded that the decision by the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries to temporarily suspend whaling last year was not legally sound; Svandís’s ban took effect on June 20, 2023, and remained in place until September 1 of the same year.

In line with the Ombudsman’s findings

The claim begins by noting that Hvalur hf. had lodged a complaint with the Parliamentary Ombudsman regarding the drafting and implementation of regulation that barred the start of whaling in the summer of 2023. The claim subsequently cites the Ombudsman’s opinion on the matter, wherein the former concluded that the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries lacked a sufficiently clear legal basis for the regulation to be considered valid.

In light of this, Hvalur hf. believes it has a right to claim damages from the Icelandic state for any financial losses incurred due to the ban. The claim acknowledges that any costs saved while the ban was active, particularly in labour expenses, should be considered for deduction.

The claim further notes that the Akranes Trade Union (Verkalýðsfélag Akraness) had declared that the employees of Hvalur had wage claims against the company for the period during which the ban was in effect. Similarly, the Association of Ship Captains (Félag skipstjórnamanna) voiced the same position for its union members.

Therefore, Hvalur considers it most practical for the Icelandic state to compensate the company’s employees and other affected parties in line with their income losses. The claim also asks for talks with the Icelandic state to settle this compensation based on the stated reasons.

Third-party assessment

Lastly, the claim suggests that the Icelandic state and Hvalur could agree on a third party to evaluate the company’s damages through an out-of-court expert assessment. However, this agreement would not be legally binding for either Hvalur or the Icelandic state.

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.

Activists Descend from Whaling Ships, Engines Turn Over

Protest

Two activists who had perched atop the masts of whaling boats in Reykjavík Harbor for over 24 hours descended from the vessels this afternoon. Fishers with the whaling company Hvalur told Vísir that whale hunting would likely begin later in the day.

Oppose lifting of the whaling ban

Early yesterday morning, activists Anahita Babaei and Elissa Bijou climbed into the masts of whaling ships Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9 to oppose the lifting of the whaling ban. As of this morning, they had surpassed a full day of protest at Reykjavík Harbour.

Samuel Rostøls, a Norwegian activist supporting the cause, told RÚV this morning that the police had yet to make any efforts since last night to remove the women from their precarious positions in the ships’ crow’s nests, which barely offer enough space to stand. The protesters had braved chilly temperatures throughout the night.

Valgerður Árnadóttir, Chair of Stop Whaling in Iceland (i.e. Hvalavinir), was on-site until yesterday evening. Speaking to RÚV this morning, Valgerður expressed growing concern for the protesters, particularly one who has been without food and water. She noted that multiple efforts to provide water or establish phone contact had been unsuccessful.

“It has now been 25 hours since she last had access to water, and despite multiple attempts to engage with the police, they have refused to provide her with water or check on her condition,” Valgerður stated earlier today. A police officer told Vísir this morning that the activists would only receive food and water if they descended from the ships.

Ambulance en route

An ambulance left for the Ægisgarður wharf this morning, RÚV reports. As noted above, concerns had escalated regarding Elissa Bijou’s health; she had remained without water or other supplies since police confiscated her backpack, which also contained vital medication, yesterday.

The scene was heavily patrolled with a force of ten to twelve police officers distributed across the whaling vessels, in addition to two marked police cars stationed on-site. Friends and supporters of the activists assembled at the harbour. Some maintained a vigil through the night.

Update: The police have turned the ambulance around, maintaining that the protestors had declined medical assistance, which they would be granted upon descending from the vessels.

No whaling today on account of the weather

Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf, told RÚV this morning that regardless of the protests, Hvalur’s whaling ships would most likely remain moored today due to the weather. Kristján questioned whether foreign protesters should have an influence on whether whales were caught off the coast of Iceland or not.

“Civil disobedience? What’s the origin of that concept? Should these people be allowed to seize power? It’s overbearing behaviour and pushy entitlement. And then they want food delivered – where does this end?”

Activists descend after 33 hours

After 33 hours atop the whaling vessels, Anahita and Elissa descended from the crow’s nests at just past 2 PM. They were subsequently taken away in police vehicles. As noted by Vísir, a few police officers remain at the scene and will likely stay there until the whaling ships depart for fishing, to ensure that other protestors do not encroach upon the vessels.

This article was updated at 15:40

Activists Climb Masts of Hvalur Vessels

hvalur whale demonstration reykjavík

Early this morning, two activists climbed into the masts of Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9 to oppose the lifting of the whaling ban. As of the time of writing, they continue to occupy the masts.

One activist named Eliza occupies Hvalur 8. Vísir states that she is associated with Sea Shepherd and its founder, Paul Watson, but is here independently. The other activist, one Anahita Babaei, occupies Hvalur 9 and has previously participated in demonstrations here in Iceland against whaling with the filmmaker Micah Garen.

A special unit of police and the fire department were quick to the scene. An aerial work platform was quickly deployed and authorities spoke with Anahita, who refused to come down. According to Micah Garen in an interview with Vísir, authorities confiscated Anahita’s supplies that she had taken with her, including food and water.

Given the recent lifting of the whaling ban in Iceland, the two Havlur ships were scheduled to begin their hunting season soon. Many activists have opposed the government’s decision to allow the whale hunt again. Prominent voices have included international media figures and True North, an Icelandic film production company.

In a post on social media, Anahita provided the following statement:

“My name is Anahita Babaei and I am part of the growing group of people here in Iceland that is against whaling. We are doing what we can to stop these ships from leaving the harbor and kill up to 209 fin whales. Right now I am in the mast of Hvalur 9 where I will be staying for as long as I can to stop the ships from going out to sea. The reason why I am doing this is not to cause trouble for anyone directly apart from the owners of Hvalur hf. I understand though that my actions will affect other groups of people indirectly, and to them I would like to apologize in advance. The actions of the owners of Hvalur hf affect many people and so action against them will also do the same. If a law is unjust, one is not only right to disobey it, one is obliged to do so. #stopwhaling now.”

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True North Demands Injunction Against Whaling Company

whale Iceland hvalur

True North, an Icelandic film and TV production company, has filed for an injunction against Hvalur hf, Iceland’s sole fin whale hunting organisation, Vísir reports. The legal move comes on the heels of Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision to lift the whaling ban yesterday.

Challenging to secure international collaborations

True North, a prominent Icelandic production company in the television and film industry, has filed for an injunction against the whaling company Hvalur hf to halt its hunting of fin whales, Vísir reports; yesterday, Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced that the government would be lifting the temporary whaling ban with more stringent regulations being imposed.

Legal counsel for True North, attorney Katrín Oddsdóttir of the Réttur law firm, argues that for Hvalur hf to continue to engage in whaling will make it increasingly challenging, if not unfeasible, to secure international collaborations for projects in Iceland.

Reputational and ecological concerns

True North bases its case on multiple fronts. Firstly, the company highlights its heavy reliance on international partnerships. A recent statement from 67 international film industry professionals – including actors, directors, and writers – asserts they will cease bringing projects to Iceland if Hvalur resumes its hunting of fin whales.

Additionally, True North cites ecological and ethical concerns, such as the negative impact of whaling on the ocean’s carbon sequestration capabilities. The company also cites reports indicating that a third of the whales caught by Hvalur in 2022 endured prolonged suffering. True North also references findings from a council on animal welfare specialists and a report from Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s working group, published this week, which evaluated measures to minimise such suffering during fishing operations.

According to True North, the stakes extend beyond financial considerations; the reputational integrity of Iceland’s artistic fields is also in jeopardy, a loss that cannot be offset by monetary compensation.

Finally, the production company contends that Hvalur hf’s activities contravene hygiene and pollution control laws. These violations pose a risk to food safety, as they involve the hunting, harvesting, and processing of animal products intended for human consumption. Moreover, the water source located above Hvalur hf’s whaling station fails to comply with drinking water regulations and lacks proper planning.

All Hands Still on Deck at Hvalur

whaling in iceland

Despite the temporary whaling ban, Hvalur hf., the only company to whale in Iceland, has not let any of its crew go. Kristján Loftsson explained the situation in a recent interview with Morgunblaðið.

Minister of Food and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced a temporary halt to whaling this summer which took effect June 20, the day before this year’s whale hunt was set to begin. The ban is valid until September 1. Many critiqued the last-minute nature of the announcement at the time, citing concerns of job loss.

Read more: Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling Ban

“No one has been let go due to the whale hunting ban. Those who had started or were just about to start are all still employed with us, and we are preparing ourselves to begin the hunting on September 1st,” Kristján stated to Morgunblaðið. Hvalur had promised employment to around 100 crew members for this year’s hunting season.

“People are finding other tasks to keep busy with,” he continued. “We were fully prepared in the spring, but there’s always room for improvement. At least it won’t be worse now than in the spring.”

Kristján also acknowledged that the whaling ban has been somewhat costly, “about as expensive as one might expect.”

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Sea Change

whaling in iceland

Last spring, journalists and activists gathered in a quiet fjord an hour’s drive north of Reykjavík. There was a small harbour, but no fishermen bringing in the day’s catch. For what these guys were fishing, they needed a bigger boat. The whaling ships of Hvalur were preparing for a season of fin whale hunting, planning […]

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No Whaling This Summer: Minister Halts Fin Whale Hunting

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, has decided to temporarily halt the hunting of fin whales until August 31. The decision follows on the heels of a report authored by a council of specialists on animal welfare, which found that fishing methods do not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Two reports, one conclusion

As noted in a press release published on the government’s website today, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) authored a report on the welfare of whales during hunting, which was received by the ministry in May 2023. The report found that the killing of whales took too long based on the main objectives of the Act on Animal Welfare.

MAST subsequently commissioned a council on animal welfare specialists to assess whether whaling could meet the objectives of the Act on Animal Welfare. The council’s opinion was received by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries yesterday, June 19. The report concluded that the fishing method used when hunting large whales did not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Given this finding, the Minister has decided to postpone the start of the whaling season, a day before whaling was set to begin, so that there is room to investigate whether it is possible to ensure that the hunting is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Act on Animal Welfare.

“I have made the decision to temporarily stop whaling in light of the unequivocal opinion of the council of animal welfare specialists,” the Minister is quoted as saying. “The conditions of the Act on Animal Welfare are inescapable in my mind: if the government and licence holders cannot guarantee welfare requirements, this activity does not have a future.”

This article will be updated.