No Whaling This Summer

Hvalur, whaling company,

Whales will not be hunted in Icelandic waters this summer, according to Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., Iceland’s only whaling operation. “As it stands right now, we have no hope of whaling this summer,” he told Morgunblaðið.

Opposition from the Left-Greens

The company applied to the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries for a whaling license on January 30. The ministry has not responded and a new minister was appointed last week, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement. Her fellow party member, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, had been the previous minister and was set to face a vote of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, for temporarily stopping whaling last summer. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that her decision to stop whaling on animal welfare grounds had not been in accordance with the law.

“It’s clear in my mind that the ministry under the leadership of the Left-Greens is disregarding the conclusion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and continues methodically on its mission of destroying this industry, even though it’s operating on legal grounds,” Kristján said. “When we don’t know if a license will be issued we can’t start hiring people and buying supplies, which is a necessary prerequisite for whaling.”

Controversial practice

Kristján added that the ministry had only been willing to issue a license for one year at a time and was asking the company to clarify if and how it adhered to certain stipulations in laws and regulations. The company has requested damages for the shortened whaling season of last summer.

Whaling remains a controversial practice in Iceland and is protested both domestically and abroad.

No Active Whaling Licenses in Iceland

Whaling ships

No Icelandic company has an active whaling license and no applications for one have been submitted to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Heimildin reports. The only active whaling company in recent years, Hvalur hf., saw their five-year license expire at the start of the year.

The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded last week that Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir did not act in accordance with the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer. Svandís announced in June that she would postpone the start of whaling season due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Vote of no confidence expected

Svandís, a prominent member of the Left-Green Movement, has come under fire by coalition partners and the opposition because of the Ombudsman’s conclusion. She has said that she has not considered resigning as minister. In the RÚV political panel show Silfrið last night, MPs from coalition members the Independence Party and the Progressive Party did not say if they would support her if a motion of no confidence is introduced in Alþingi. Opposition MPs from the People’s Party and the Social Democratic Alliance said that it would not be in their interest to back Svandís up if such a vote comes to pass when Alþingi reconvenes. Centre Party Leader, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, has announced that his party will introduce such a motion, Morgunblaðið reports.

The last whaling license was granted to Hvalur hf. in 2019 when a minister from the Independence Party was in charge of the issue. When the shortened whaling season eventually began in August last year, Hvalur went on to catch 24 fin whales. Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., has said that he will sue for damages for the delay.

Future of whaling unclear

Andrés Ingi Jónsson, MP for the Pirate Party, introduced a bill in Alþingi last year to ban whaling. It has not come to a vote, but has received 3,500 reviews from the public and advocacy groups, 2,000 more than have ever been submitted on any other policy issue. It is unclear whether the ministry would grant a new whaling license with Svandís in charge. She has said that the legislation on the issue needs updating and that the Ombudsman’s conclusion will help guide future policy-making on whaling.

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.

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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Whaling Has Little Economic Impact on Iceland

hvalur whaling in iceland

Whaling in Iceland has little direct impact on the Icelandic economy. Whaling has not turned a profit in recent years for Hvalur hf., the only company that has been whaling commercially in Iceland in the recent past. While people abroad almost always see Iceland’s participation in whaling in a negative light, those views do not seem to have a measurable negative effect on Iceland’s economy, neither affecting the sale or export of Icelandic goods nor Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination.

These are the conclusions of a report on the economic impact of whaling in Iceland, written by consulting company Intellecon for the Ministry of Fisheries, Food, and Agriculture. The report only considers whaling’s direct economic impact on Iceland; not biological, regional, or political factors. Neither does it consider the ecological impact of the practice.

Less than 1% of total seafood export

According to data gathered by the report’s authors, the export of whale products has never amounted to more than 0.6% of the total export value of seafood from Iceland – that record was reached in 2016. Despite not being an economically significant industry, however, whaling is important for the individuals it employs, who earn a higher salary whaling and processing whale meat than they would in most other industries. It bears noting, however, that the work is shift work and seasonal, usually lasting four months per year. Around 120 people worked on processing whale meat last season and the average salary of those whaling and processing whale meat was between ISK 1.7-2 million per month [$12,900, €11,800].

Read More: Sea Change

The report details various difficulties in selling whale products due to restrictions and other factors. It mentioned that “It has been difficult to get permission to sell the whale meal, e.g. in feed for pigs, as it has not met the conditions for such use.” While Hvalur hf. has burned whale oil on its ships, “Selling it for other uses has proven impossible, in part due to trade barriers on whale products.”

Hvalur hf. has only hunted fin whales in recent years, and their meat has only been sold to Japan. The consumption of whale meat has decreased rapidly there, from 233,000 tonnes in 1962 to only 1-2,000 tonnes in 2021 and 2022. Transporting whale products has also proven difficult in recent years due to pressure from organisations that campaign against whaling and the reluctance of governments to permit the transport of whale products through their countries. As a result, whale meat from Iceland has been transported to Japan across the northerly route, north of Russia and Siberia. Conditions on the route are difficult and require collaboration with Russian icebreakers.

Future of whaling decided this month

While people abroad view Iceland’s whaling in a negative light, the report did not find that these views had any negative economic impact that could be measured. They neither made it more difficult to sell Icelandic products abroad nor did they reduce Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination.

Iceland’s Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir implemented a temporary ban on whaling on June 20, the day before the whaling season was set to begin. The ban expires at the end of August. Svandís has stated that a decision on the continuation of the controversial practice will be made public before the end of the month.

“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 Crew Sues Over Video Recordings

Two crew members on a whaling ship operated by Iceland’s only active whaling company have sued the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) and the Directorate of Fisheries, RÚV reports. They assert that their right to privacy was violated by a video recording made on the ship.

The recordings were made as part of authorities’ surveillance of whaling last year, which was increased in 2022 in line with new regulations. The two crew members can be identified in the video and believe this violated their right to privacy.

A newly-release report made with the help of such surveillance indicates that whaling is not in line with animal welfare legislation in Iceland. Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir called the report “shocking” and said it called for a re-evaluation of the practice in Iceland.

Only one company currently practices whaling in Iceland, Hvalur hf., and their licence expires after the upcoming whaling season. Svandís has previously indicated that the government will not issue further whaling licence after this year.

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.

Activists Preparing to Intercept Icelandic Whaling Ships

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

A group of activists led by Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace, are preparing a ship in Hull, England, for the mission of intercepting Icelandic whaling ships this summer, the BBC reports. Watson stated that the ship, which is owned by his non-profit organisation, would “block, harass, and get in the way” of Icelandic whaling vessels to prevent “illegal” whaling operations.

Whaling restarted in Iceland last summer following a four-year hiatus. Watson specified that his group would only “oppose criminal operations, not legitimate companies.” Only one company currently holds a whaling licence in Iceland: Hvalur hf., which Watson has previously accused of illegal whaling.

While the whale hunting conducted by Hvalur hf. is legal according to Icelandic law, the company has been embroiled in several controversies in recent years. Public outcries followed when Hvalur hf. killed a pregnant fin whale and a rare hybrid whale in 2018. Hvalur hf. was at risk of losing their whaling licence after failing to submit captains’ logs for the 2014, 2015, and 2018 seasons. The company has also been sued by three of its shareholders as well as by activists.

Icelandic authorities may put an end to whaling anyway

The efforts of Watson and his crew may not be necessary to stop Icelandic whaling for good. Hvalur hf.’s whaling licence expires at the end of this year, and Iceland’s Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has indicated she may not issue further licences for the controversial practice. In an op-ed published in Morgunblaðið newspaper last year, Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote she sees little reason to permit whaling in Iceland after 2023. According to Svandís, there is little evidence that whaling is economically beneficial to Iceland and it likely has a negative impact on the country, though that impact may be hard to measure.

A recent survey conducted by Maskína for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association found a greater number of Icelanders opposed whaling than supported it. Two-thirds of respondents believed it negatively impacted Iceland’s reputation.

Iceland Among Nations to Boycott Vote on South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary

whale Iceland hvalur

Iceland’s delegation to a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) joined 14 other nations in walking out on a vote on whether to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, Vísir reports. The mass walkout took place at the end of Friday’s session and meant that there were not enough member nations present to vote on the initiative. The Icelandic government has since commented on the walkout, saying that it objected to the vote on grounds of protocol and fairness to absent member states.

A proposal to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic has been circulating amongst members of the IWC for years—20 years, according to a representative of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) Germany.

A simple majority of the IWC member states has already voted in support of the proposal, but a 3/4 majority is needed to ratify it.

“Pro-whaling nations…holding Commission hostage”

Iceland’s delegation to the IWC consists of four delegates, including one representative each from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. The fourth representative is Kristján Loftsson, CEO of the whaling company, Hvalur, hf.

A recap of the Friday meeting on the IWC website described it as “challenging,” starting, on a more positive note, with the fact that it “ended with a consensus Resolution on Marine Plastics” which “highlights the transboundary nature of the threat and need for collaboration at international and multi-disciplinary levels.”

Transboundary collaboration was stymied at the next agenda item, however, although the IWC recap struck a rather diplomatic tone when describing it: “Absence of some governments from the room and subsequent debate regarding quorum and handling of the Schedule Amendment on the South Atlantic Sanctuary prevented a vote taking place and resulted in Commission agreement to develop proposals to clarify the rules related to quorum and attendance. This will be the first agenda item at the next meeting in 2024 and will be discussed before the Commission is asked to take any decisions.”

Matt Collins, the president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), was more vocal in his critique of the proceedings, however, tweeting:

“breaking news: pro-whaling nations at #IWC68 refuse to join sessions, breaking quorum required for any decision-making. This is all because they fear losing a vote on establishing a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (where none of them hunt or want to hunt whales)”

According to Collins’ later tweets, Iceland joined 14 other nations in the walkout: Antigua & Barbuda, Benin, Cambodia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Iceland, Kiribati, Laos, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Nauru Palau, St. Lucia, and the Solomon Islands. The meeting chair elected to adjourn for lunch to see if the absent nations would return, but none of them did. “Same countries still absent, holding the Commission hostage…” tweeted Collins, a state of affairs that continued even after a second adjournment and “passionate pleas from Latin American countries for those absent to show respect to those who have remained.”

Ministry says Iceland objected out of fairness to absent members, protocol

Dúi Landmark, the PR officer for the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, confirmed that the Icelandic delegation walked out of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary vote. In a written statement issued to the media about the incident, the Ministry stated that fewer than two out of three IWC member states were present at this year’s meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, for a variety of reasons. The statement noted that it was the opinion of representatives of developing nations in Africa and island nations in the Caribbean that a vote should not be held under such circumstances. A number of present nations tried to proceed with the vote, but the Icelandic government agreed with the objectors, saying that holding a vote would be a breach of protocol according to the IWC’s Articles of Association.

“Consequently, Iceland believes that it would be irregular to vote on such a proposal when the requirements of the [IWC’s] Articles of Association have not been fulfilled and a number of member states are unable to substantively comment on the proposal in question through participation in, and discussions at the annual meeting,” concluded the Ministry’s response.

The vote on the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary will be the first agenda item at next year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission.