No Whaling This Summer

whale Iceland hvalur

There will be no whaling conducted in Icelandic waters this summer, neither of minke whale nor of fin whales. RÚV reports that this will be the first time in 17 years that whaling has not been conducted in Iceland during the summer season.

Whaling resumed in Iceland in 2003, after a 14-year hiatus. When it started again, it was for scientific purposes. Commercial whaling then resumed again in 2006. Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson issued an authorization in February which allowed for fin and minke whaling to continue until 2023, although whaling regulations are to be renewed every five years. The Marine and Freshwater Institute has recommended a maximum annual quota of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales; this official annual quota will be valid from 2018 to 2025.

The decision to suspend whaling this summer stems from commercial, rather than specifically ethical reasons or protests. For instance, Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf, the only company to hunt fin whales, announced earlier this month that Hvalur would not be whaling this summer, but made a point of saying that the decision had nothing to do with the Greenpeace ship Esperanza docked in Reykjavík harbour.

Initially, Kristján said that the decision to suspend whaling this summer was based on the fact that the company’s permits did not arrive until February, which he said was too late to allow for the necessary ship maintenance. More recently, Kristján has added that conditions on the Japanese market, where all of Hvalur’s fin whale catch is exported, have not been profitable enough to make whaling worth it this season.

Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, the CEO of IP útgerð, which focuses on the domestic market, echoed Kristján’s sentiments. “As the situation stands right now, it doesn’t suit us [to whale this season]” he remarked. “So we made the decision to skip it.” IP útgerð will instead focus its efforts this summer on harvesting sea cucumbers. Gunnar explained that he would be importing Norwegian whale meat to address local demand and said that his company plans to resume whaling again next spring.

The Marine and Freshwater Institute also confirmed that there would be no whaling for research purposes this summer.

Sea Cucumber Fever Grips Fisheries

A record number of sea cucumbers have been caught around Iceland during this fishing season, RÚV reports.

This year’s season has kicked off with a bang, with around 2,000 tons of sea cucumbers being harvested from the ocean floor around the country. Last season 5,400 tons were caught during the whole season, which was double the amount caught the season before that.

Sea cucumbers are invertebrates that inhabit the sea floor the world over, serving a useful role in the ecosystem as they break down detritus and other organic matter for bacteria to consume. They are considered a delicacy in Asia and are used in ancient folk medicine, despite a lack of research proving their therapeutic potential. In Chinese cuisine, they are referred to as hoisam and are sold dry.

No fixed quota has been set for sea cucumber harvesting in Iceland. Nine fishing boats are currently given permits, with a quota set for specific areas. But beyond those no limit is set, giving fishermen free rein to fish as many sea cucumbers as they wish.

Sea Cucumber Company Receives Innovation Award

Aurora Seafood catches and processes sea cucumbers in the seas surrounding Iceland. The company received the Svifalda (Gliding wave) award for being a progressive and innovative business at The Seafood Conference Iceland this past weekend, Vísir reports. The annual conference was held in Harpa music and conference hall between November 15 and 16.

“We are the only European nation that catches sea cucumbers in some magnitude, the catch is probably going to reach six thousand tons this year. That’s a whole bunch,” said Davíð Freyr Jónsson, Aurora Seafood’s manager.

“We founded fishery and started to meddle in this business for real in 2016, but the first experimental fishing was done in 2003. We were laying low for a long time, but now the operation has begun to plant roots. We applied for funding from the European Union which we received last year, around ISK 200 million [$1.62 million, €1.42 million]. The funding went towards developing fishing gear and develop this machine for which we received the award,” Davíð stated.

Davíð says he is a landlubber who has converted to the seafaring lifestyle. “I’m raised in Fljótsdalshérað district but I have a captain’s certificate for all ships up to twelve metres long.” Such small boats aren’t a great fit for sea cucumber fishing, so a larger ship by the name of Klettur ÍS was purchased. The main fishing grounds for sea cucumbers in Icelandic waters is to the east and west of the country.

Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, especially China. It’s considered a status food, eaten on special occasions and to honour guests. Rich in nutrients, sea cucumbers bear the name haishen, which can be translated as ‘ginseng of the sea’. Although sea cucumbers are mainly eaten in Asia, Icelanders also consume them, but often in another form. “Many Icelander use sea cucumber products themselves, maybe without knowing, in tablets to combat joint pain,” said Davíð.

The sea cucumbers are not processed by Aurora Seafood themselves as the processing is outsourced to a man in Stokkseyri. The fishing is performed by special traps which are dragged across the ocean floor. “We, of course, try to ensure that they cause as little a disturbance as possible,” Davíð stated. “It was an honour to receive the award. It’s confirmation that what we’re doing is interesting to others,” Davíð stated.