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.

Lack of Clarity Over Whale Hunting Contentions

Following the recent decision from Minister of Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir to grant the whaling company Hvalur hf. a permit to hunt fin whales this year, Hvalur hf. CEO Kristján Loftsson has made a number of contentions regarding both the operating practices of the Ministry and his own company’s capabilities to engage in fin whale hunting this year. Some of these contentions are contradictory, and do not appear to hold up to scrutiny.

The quota

While whales are mammals, they are subject to many of the same regulations that apply to fishing. Included in that is the quota system. Iceland’s fishing quota system is based on the idea of sustainable fishing, and grants different companies a maximum amount of different types of fish that may be caught in a given time frame based on research from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, amongst others.

The fin whaling quota this year is 128. Speaking to RÚV, Kristján said that it was “without precedent” that the whaling quota is reduced from previous years; that it is instead increased.

The whaling quota over the years is a matter of public record. A look at the numbers shows that whaling quotas are more complex than a continuous rise. For example, in 2018 a quota was granted of 161 fin whales in addition to 20% of the unused quota the year previous; in 2022, it was the same.

So while the total number of fin whales that are hunted in any given year may vary, during these two years the base quota (i.e., the number of fin whales allowed to be hunted before the previous unused quota is factored in) was the same.

Too late to hunt or not

Kristján has also contended multiple times that the license was granted far too late for his company to conduct any whale hunting this year.

In 2023, former Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s temporary fin whaling ban held its final day on August 31. The fin whale hunting season began September 1 ended at the end of that month, with 24 fin whales hunted.

It would therefore not be surprising if Hvalur hf., which this year now has an even longer season in which to hunt fin whales, did go whaling this summer, perhaps underlined by Kristján telling reporters that he does not believe the last whale has been hunted.

Iceland News Review: Whale Hunting, Eruption in Reykjanes and More!

In this episode of Iceland News Review, The Minister of Fisheries has allowed for fin whale hunting this year, but it remains unclear if any whaling will be done this summer at all. Join us Yelena explores this, and the week’s other top stories, in this episode of Iceland News Review.

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 CEO Cannot Foresee Summer Hunts

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf., does not expect to hunt fin whales this summer despite a newly issued permit, Mbl.is reports. Citing a lack of preparation time and predictability, Kristján has criticised the Left-Green Movement for deliberately making whaling difficult and calls the permit insufficient for operational needs. A board member of the Animal Welfare Association of Iceland has called for the end of fin-whale hunting.

No whaling without predictability

As reported yesterday, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, issued a permit for fin whale hunting this year. The allowable catch is 99 animals in the Greenland/West Iceland area and 29 in the East Iceland/Faroe Islands area, totalling 128 animals. The minister stated that the government was obligated to issue the permit despite her own personal stance on the matter.

Despite Bjarkey issuing the permit, Kristján Loftsson, CEO and major owner of Hvalur hf. – Iceland’s only whaling company – does not expect to be able to hunt whales this summer.

“I do not foresee any whaling this summer, as we use the time between seasons to prepare for next year’s hunts. Most people understand this – but not these ministers from the Left-Green Movement,” Kristján told Morgunblaðið in an interview published this morning, adding that Hvalur needed to hire experienced workers and procure various operational supplies. “If predictability is not present, this is hopeless.”

Kristján further stated that no business could operate under such unpredictable conditions: “This permit is issued for 204 days. If the minister wants to kill this business, this is the way to do it. There is no predictability, and thinking that such an operation can be started without notice is absurd.”

Kristján believes that the Left-Green Movement planned to make whaling difficult: “It is obvious that these people have been playing around, pretending to have been weighing the matter and now suddenly emerging from their deep meditations. This is a premeditated plan by these people, Bjarkey, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and Svandís Svavarsdóttir,” he observed. “They have all been involved since the application was submitted. This has been a legal business the entire time, since 1948.”

Humane hunting an impossibility

As noted by several media outlets yesterday, it appears as if no one is satisfied with Bjarkey’s decision. In an interview during the nightly news on Channel 2 yesterday, Sigursteinn Másson, a board member of the Animal Welfare Association of Iceland, expressed his disapproval of the new permit:

“These are not normal or usual animal hunts,” Sigursteinn stated, noting that during an inspection by the Food and Veterinary Authority, it had been revealed that two explosive harpoons had struck a third of the whales.

Sigursteinn observed that fin whales were the second largest animals on earth, weighing about 50 tonnes and measuring twenty metres in length. Given this, it was difficult to hunt such large animals, and it was becoming evident that it was impossible to hunt these animals humanely in any way, Sigursteinn maintained. “Therefore, this must stop,” he stated.

“This practice is predicated on 75-year-old laws,” Sigursteinn continued, adding that at the same time that these laws were enacted, embarking on a safari in Africa to hunt elephants and rhinos was considered acceptable; animal welfare standards were entirely different then, and the Animal Welfare Association of Iceland believes these hunts should be consigned to history.

“This must end, and we must face our times. There are entirely different demands now than when these whaling laws were enacted in 1949,” Sigursteinn concluded by saying, adding that parliament should repeal these laws.

Hvalur hf. Granted Permit to Hunt Fin Whale This Year

whaling in iceland

Minister of Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir has granted Hvalur hf., the only Icelandic fin whaling company, a permit to hunt fin whale this year. The permit is valid for a total of 128 fin whales. The minister stated that the government was obligated to issue the permit, despite her own personal stance on the matter.

Read more: Iceland to decide on continued whaling

Following the expiration of their 5-year whale hunting permit, Hvalur hf. applied to renew their permit this past January.

The much-awaited decision came today after some delay. As fin whale hunting begins in June, parties on both sides of the issues had critiqued the minister for delaying the government decision.

Read more: Sea Change

While Hvalur hf. had previously applied for another 5-year permit, the permit just granted by the minister is only valid for the 2024 hunting season, allowing a quota of 99 animals in the Greenland-West Iceland area and 29 animals in the East Iceland-Faroe Islands area, totaling 128 whales.

The hunting quota is within recommendations made by the Marine and Freshwater Institute. Regulations made by previous Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir are still in effect. MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, also made recommendations last year for stricter supervision and regulation of the controversial industry. Current Minister of Fisheries Bjarkey Gunnarsdóttir has stated that these measures are still under consideration.

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.

Iceland News Review: Will We Whale or Won’t We?

In this episode of Iceland News Review, there’s a storm brewing around fin whale hunting, some new twists in the presidential race, one’s man fight to keep his “awful” name, 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!

Criticises Ministry Over Lack of Whaling Response

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chair of the Akranes Worker’s Union, is fairly convinced that there will not be any fin whale hunting this year, on account of the Ministry of Fisheries having still not responded to an application from Hvalur hf., Iceland’s last fin whale hunting company, for a hunting permit this year. The Minister has yet to respond to inquiries from reporters on whether or not the permit will be granted.

Needing an answer

“It hits me pretty hard and I think it gets clearer every day that there will be no hunting this year,” he told Vísir. “No company in Iceland can live with this kind of management: to not get to know whether they have a license to operate or not.”

The application was filed on January 30th, and the hunting season begins in about two weeks. Vilhjálmur does not believe this is enough time to start hiring people, prepare ships, and get equipment in order before the hunting season begins.

A contentious profession

Last year, the previous Minister of Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, issued a temporary ban on fin whale hunting on the day that the hunt was to begin. This decision was made based on a report from the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) that Hvalur’s previous fin whale hunt did not comply with animal welfare laws. This ban was later determined to be unlawful by the Parliamentary ombudsman.

The current Minister of Fisheries, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, hails from the same party as Svandís–the Left-Green Movement–and has said that a decision will be made when the application has been processed.

New poll on whaling

In related news, a new poll from Maskína asked respondents whether they support or oppose Hvalur being granted a permit to hunt fin whales this year.

34% said they would support the granting of a new permit, 48.9% said they are opposed to the idea, and 16.5% had no opinion on the matter.

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.