Minister Won’t Comment on Whaling License

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture and fisheries

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, the new minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, will not comment on whether a whaling license will be issued this year, Morgunblaðið reports.

“I will not tell the press what I plan to do until I’ve made my decision,” she said this week. “And I don’t yet have all the necessary information that I need to make that decision.”

No hope of whaling, said CEO

As noted by Iceland Review last weekend, Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur, Iceland’s only whaling operation, said that there was “no hope of whaling this summer” as things stand. On January 30, the company applied for a whaling license after its previous one had expired. The ministry did not respond until the middle of March, when it requested clarification from Hvalur on whether the company followed certain laws and stipulations.

Hvalur’s response was submitted on March 21 and the company has not heard back from the ministry since. Kristján has said that Bjarkey’s party, the Left-Green Movement, was methodically trying to “destroy the industry”.

No time limit stipulated

Kristján said that Bjarkey’s ministry, which was headed by her Left-Green colleague Svandís Svavarsdóttir before a cabinet reshuffling earlier this month, was only open to granting a one-year license, which would effectively make it impossible for the industry to operate, in his opinion. He added that without a license in hand at this point in time, the company can’t start hiring people or buying supplies for this summer’s whaling season.

Bjarkey added that the matter is being handled in a proper ministerial process and that there’s nothing in the law on whaling that sets a time limit for processing licenses.

No Whaling This Summer

Hvalur, whaling company,

Update April 17: At the time of writing, the whaling license is still pending. Kristján Loftsson’s statement to the effect that whaling will not take place this summer is not to be perceived as their lack of intent to whale. Rather, his statements are a critique of government action. It is currently still undecided whether Iceland will resume whaling this summer. Iceland Review apologises for the misleading headline, but presents the original article below, unaltered.

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.

Decision on Whaling Broke Law

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The decision made last summer by Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir to stop whaling was not in accordance with the law, the Alþingi Ombudsman has concluded. The conclusion is likely to threaten Svandís’ position as minister and possibly the coalition government as a whole.

Svandís announced in June that she would temporarily stop whaling due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). She argued that in light of the opinion, she would have no choice but to postpone the start of whaling season. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups.

Whaler sues for damages

Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Iceland’s only active whaling operation, Hvalur hf., told Morgunblaðið that he would sue for damages. “She lets her own political views guide her with no regard for other interests if they don’t align with hers,” Kristján said of Svandís after the Ombudsman published their conclusion. “Of course Hvalur will ask for compensation because of the enormous harm that’s come to the company and its staff.”

Svandís’ decision last summer was met with fierce opposition by her coalition partners in the Independence Party. Svandís is a member of the Left-Green Movement, who along with the Progressive Party, make up the coalition government spanning from centre-left to centre-right. Mbl.is reports that MPs from the Independence Party are already speculating on the possibility that she will be forced to resign or offered a similar route to Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson. Last fall, the Ombudsman issued a conclusion criticising Bjarni’s handling of the March 2022 sale of Íslandsbanki as Minister of Finance, in which a group of “qualified investors” were given priority to purchase bank shares. Among these qualified investors was Benedikt Sveinsson, Bjarni’s father. Bjarni then swapped ministries with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some expect Svandís to swap ministries in this way or else risk the future of the coalition.

Svandís told Mbl.is that she has not considered resigning and that the Ombudsman’s conclusion will help guide future policy-making on whaling.

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

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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Temporary Licence for Hvalur Whaling Company Extended

whale Iceland hvalur

On Wednesday, the West Iceland Healthcare Committee (i.e. Heilbrigðisnefnd Vesturlands) agreed to renew the temporary operating licence of the whaling company Hvalur until July 12 at the latest. The extension was granted on the basis of the principle of proportionality.

Temporary licence initially granted until May 1, 2023

On June 3 2022, the whaling company Hvalur hf. – the only whaling company still operating in Iceland – applied for a new operating licence from the West Iceland Healthcare Committee (i.e. Heilbrigðisnefnd Vesturlands). At the same time, Hvalur also applied for a temporary extension, which the committee granted until May 1, 2023, while the permanent licence was being processed.

A proposal for Hvalur’s renewed operational licence was advertised on the Healthcare Committee’s website on May 12, 2023, with the deadline for comments expiring on June 9 (those comments are still being reviewed.)

As the permanent licence had not been approved, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur, asked the West Iceland Healthcare Committee to extend the company’s temporary operating licence, and the application was discussed at meetings on Monday and Wednesday this week.

The meeting minutes note that, according to the law, the committee is permitted to extend the validity period of an operating licence while a new one is being processed for up to one year. Last year, the committee extended Hvalur’s temporary licence until May 1, 2023, or for nine months, as the committee assumed that Hvalur’s application for a new licence had been processed by that time.

“During the processing period, the Health Inspectorate made demands on various improvements relating to the current operating licence, especially as regards pollution prevention. According to the information that the committee has received, Hvalur has worked to remedy these deficiencies, with improvements being either completed or at an advanced stage.”

According to the information the committee had received, Hvalur aimed to conclude these improvements on June 19. The committee has thus decided to extend Hvalur’s temporary operating licence:

“With reference to the proportionality principle of the administrative law, the committee believes that the conditions exist to extend Hvalur’s operating licence temporarily, until the time a new licence has been issued, although never longer than until July 12, 2023, when the statutory maximum extension is reached.”

As reported earlier this week, the Ministry of the Environment plans to dismiss Hvalur’s request for an exemption from an operating licence, as the West Iceland Healthcare Committee already had the licence under consideration. As noted by Vísir, it is clear that if permission is not obtained, the whaling season would be delayed; it usually starts in mid-June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.