Iceland News Review: Counting Birds, Hunting Whales, Corruption And More!

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In this episode of Iceland News Review, we report on some good news for disaster preparedness. Last month’s eruptions near Grindavík has motivated Parliament to set up a special fund to deal with sudden catastrophes, but it may take some time yet before it can be established.

In other news, we report on how fin whale hunters and the government are at odds, corruption in Iceland, the annual bird count, plus weather, road conditions and much more!

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

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.

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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Full House for Meeting on Whaling Decision

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Members of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party demanded at a town hall meeting in Akranes last night, June 22, that Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Fisheries, reconsider her decision to temporarily halt whale hunting. RÚV reports.

The meeting in Akranes was called in response to the recent decision to halt the whale hunting season this year in light of animal welfare concerns. Svandís addressed the reasoning behind the recent decision, acknowledging that people have strong opinions on the matter.

Read More: No Whaling This Summer

“It is always important to base the discussion on facts, genuine knowledge, and reality, but it is natural for people to have strong emotions and heated debates,” the minister stated.

Regarding the short notice of the decision, she explained that she had to quickly assess the potential impact of the advisory board’s recommendations based on the latest report.

Read More: Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling  Ban

“Knowing this, I cannot let the season start, so I made the decision to postpone the beginning in order to attempt to establish better communication with stakeholders and those who are most knowledgeable,” she said.

Teitur Björn Einarsson, representative of the Independence Party, also spoke at the meeting, indicating that the minister’s recent decision may be illegal.

Svandís denied this, referring to the Ministry’s obligation to follow welfare guidelines.

“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.

 

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.

Animal Welfare Inspectors to Join Whaling Ships

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) will regularly monitor whether whaling companies are complying with Icelandic laws on animal welfare, thanks to a new regulation implemented by Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir. The Directorate of Fisheries will conduct the monitoring. Only one company is actively whaling in Iceland and Svandís has suggested that their licence will not be renewed after 2023.

The Directorate of Fisheries will be responsible for sending inspectors on whale hunting trips, making video recordings of hunting methods, and keeping a registry of them, according to a government notice. All inspection data will be sent to the supervising veterinarian. The Directorate will also monitor whether the whaling ships are complying with the requirements of their licence, such as regulations on fishing equipment.

“It’s a cause for celebration that these key institutions will collaborate on the inspection,” Svandís stated. “That’s where the expertise lies and the data collected will be able to confirm whether whaling is practised according to law.” The regulation has already taken effect and monitoring will start immediately. The notice does not clarify whether inspectors will be present on all whaling expeditions.

Whaling restarted in Iceland in June 2022 following a four-year hiatus. In an op-ed published in Morgunblaðið newspaper, Svandís stated there is little evidence the practice is economically beneficial to Iceland. The current government regulations allow for whaling until the year 2023, and Svandís stated she sees little reason to permit the practice after that licence expires.

Animal Welfare Officers Could Be Required on Icelandic Whaling Ships

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has stated that whaling vessels may be required to have an animal welfare officer aboard in the future.

Emphasizing the moral value of animal life, she states that the goal of such regulation would be to ensure that the whales are treated as ethically as possible and that their suffering not be prolonged. Svandís said that since slaughterhouses face strict regulations under the government, that whaling ships should also be held accountable for the ethical treatment of their catch.

Under the new system, a crew member from each whaling ship would be appointed as an animal rights observer and trained by veterinarians at MAST. These observers would then be responsible for documenting the whale hunt, from the moment the whale emerges to the moment the whale is loaded off the boat. Video documentation will then be submitted to MAST for review.

These new regulations would allow the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries to exercise greater control over the practice of whaling, without requiring further legislation to be passed through Alþing.

The comments come in response to the beginning of Iceland’s whaling season when the first whale in three years was caught on June 24. The quota for this year, set by Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, includes 161 fin whales and 217 minke whales.

Previously this year, Svandís stated that she saw little justification to extend the whaling permits which expire in 2023. If the permits are to be renewed, then whaling must be shown to be economically justifiable. As it stands, according to her, the economic benefits of whaling are marginal, and perhaps detrimental to Iceland’s international image.

Whaling Restarts in Iceland Following Four-Year Hiatus

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Two whaling ships owned by the company Hvalur hf. set off from Reykjavík harbour yesterday to begin the whaling season, RÚV reports. No commercial whaling has taken place in Iceland for four years, though a single minke whale was hunted in 2021. The whaling licence held by Hvalur hf. expires next year, and Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries has indicated that the practice of whaling may be discontinued in Iceland afterwards.

The whale hunting quota issued by Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute for this season is 161 fin whales and 217 minke whales. The quota is based on appraisals from the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission and the International Whaling Commission. According to RÚV, the number of fin whales in Icelandic waters has increased steadily since counting began in 1987. Its conservation status is nevertheless listed as “vulnerable” according to the CITES Appendix. As of 2018, the IUCN Red List places minke whales in the “least concern” category.

Conflict with Food and Veterinary Authority

The whale hunting season lasts from June until late September, and some 150 employees are expected to staff Hvalur hf.’s whaling ships, whaling station in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland, and their processing plant in Hafnarfjörður, in the capital area. Hvalur hf.’s CEO Kristján Loftsson has stated that the main reason for the company’s lack of activity since 2018 is conflict with Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority concerning the company’s whaling station. He has also previously cited poor market conditions for whale products and the COVID-19 pandemic as factors.

Hvalur hf. embroiled in controversy

Whaling company Hvalur hf. has been embroiled in several controversies in recent years. Public outcries followed when the company 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 been sued by three of its shareholders as well as by activists.

Iceland’s second-last whaling season?

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