Parliamentary Party Wants to Ban Whaling by Law

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

In a newsletter sent by the Left-Green Party, they state that the current law on whale hunting is such that issuing a license to hunt whales is unavoidable. They say that they want to ban whale hunting by law, but the parliamentary majority to do so does not yet exist.

128 fin whales

As reported, Minister of Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir–who is in the Left-Greens–issued a permit to whaling company Hvalur hf. to hunt 128 fin whales this summer.

Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur, was unhappy with the decision anyway, saying that the permit was granted too late for them to do any whaling this summer–despite the fact that this same company hunted 24 fin whales last year when the company had an even shorter season, consisting of just the month of September, following the expiration of the temporary ban issued by former Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir.

Speaking with Vísir, Kristján affirmed that Hvalur would do no whaling this summer, but would very likely be seeking damages from the government.

Nobody pleased

The newsletter acknowledges that no one has been happy with Bjarkey’s decision, Vísir reports, and that changes will need to be made in the future.

“Regarding the future, work will need to be done to protect the whale stocks and sustainable practices in the whale industry with whale watching and other humane practices, as the International Whaling Commission has increased emphasis on over the past years and decades,” the newsletter reads, adding that whale hunting must be banned by law.

In closing, the newsletter states that until this ban is issued, the party will continue to fight for the lives of whales, and animal welfare in general.

Iceland to Decide on Continued Whaling Next Week

Golli. Hvalur hf. operations in Iceland

A decision will be made next Tuesday on whether a five-year whaling licence will be issued to Hvalur hf., Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir has stated. RÚV reported on the minister’s statement, made during question period in Alþingi this morning. Hvalur hf. is the only Icelandic company that has been hunting whales in recent years and their licence for the controversial practice expired in 2023.

Hvalur hf. submitted an application for a new five-year licence in January. The whaling season often begins in June, but the application is still under review within the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. Last month, the minister requested various institutions to review and comment on the application and says the last of the comments were submitted two days ago. Hvalur hf. has been given until tomorrow to respond to the institutions’ comments and a final decision on whether or not to issue a licence to the company will be made on Tuesday next week.

Animal welfare concerns

The minister has been criticised for the application’s long procedure time, including by Centre Party MP Bergþór Ólason. Bjarkey pointed out that last time a whaling licence was issued, in 2019, the procedure took around four months and whaling began in mid-July. “Since then, issues have emerged, for example about how the animals are killed and the interplay between whaling and animal welfare,” Bjarkey stated.

Last year, then-Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir temporarily halted the whaling season last June one day before it was set to begin in light of the strong opinion of an animal welfare advisory board under Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority. The board concluded that the fishing method used when hunting large whales did not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare. The whaling ban was later lifted at the end of August, allowing Hvalur hf. to hunt whales last autumn. The company’s ships were delayed in leaving Reykjavík harbour by two activists who climbed their masts in protest.

In January of this year, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that Svandís’ decision to halt whaling had not been in accordance with the law. The decision and subsequent finding caused tension within the governing coalition.

Read More: Sea Change

Former Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir had previously raised the possibility of stopping whaling in Iceland, including in an editorial published in 2022, where she cited the practice’s marginal economic benefit and harm to Iceland’s international image. Prominent Icelanders have spoken out against the practice recently, asking current Fisheries Minister Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir not to issue a new licence to Hvalur hf.

When is whale watching season in Iceland?

whale Iceland hvalur

Iceland offers a great diversity of wildlife, and heading on a whale-watching tour is one of the main highlights of one’s stay on this island. Luckily, Iceland has a broad shoreline and can boast numerous whale-watching spots. But when and where is the best time and place to go whale-watching in Iceland? Read on and find out!

The best season for whale-watching

Undoubtedly, the best season for whale-watching is the summer months, from April to October. As many whale species migrate to Iceland during that time to feed in the nutrient-dense waters, this is the best time to observe an abundance of these cetaceans in the waters. If you are interested in reading more about which whales you can observe in Iceland, read our travel article here.

The weather also plays an important part in heading on a whale-watching tour. Most tour providers do not offer tours from November to January, as storms are quite regular, and heading on a boat tour would not be too pleasant.

The only species that is better observed in spring/early summer are Orcas. They are best spotted from March until early June, with the prime hotspot being in Ólafsvík, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Top spots for whale-watching in Iceland

Generally, most places to go whale-watching in Iceland are in the western part of the country and in the North. Húsavík is commonly known as the “capital of whale-watching” and offers many tour providers and whale sightings every season – even tracking when blue whales, the biggest species on earth, come and visit the small town in the North.

Other spots in Iceland do not rank behind, and heading on a whale-watching tour from Reykjavík can also lead to great observations! Read more about whale-watching tours from Reykjavík here. You can check out this map below to see all the whale-watching spots in Iceland. 

If you’re interested in booking a whale-watching tour, you can check out these tours here.

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

INR

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.