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Iceland, one of the last countries still catching whales in defiance of the international whaling moratorium, has been hunting fin whales and minke whales for many years, attributing quotas to themselves. Last year the self-granted 5-year fin whaling quota had expired and there were many appeals to seize this opportunity to finally end hunting this second largest animal species on the blue planet. In addition to OceanCare and many other conservation organisations, the European Union, its Member States and 13 other states addressed a joint demarche to Iceland to end commercial whaling. And also within Iceland there were many critical voices up to the Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, on 19 February Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries set new catch quotas for the next five years, increasing the number of fin whales to be killed annually by 55 to 209! How could this happen?

Icelandic Fisheries Minister Júlíusson justified his decision by referring to a study by the Institute for Economic Studies at the University of Iceland, which blamed whales for the decline in fish stocks and recommended an intensification of whaling. Since then, this study has been publicly criticised by many experts. And now Icelandic media revealed that Iceland’s only fin whale hunter, millionaire Kristján Loftsson, had previously paid six million Icelandic kroner (about 44,000 euro) to the same university – for a study on the use of whale gelatine.

Interestingly, the main author of the study previously had a political mandate for the Independence Party, to which the Fisheries Minister belongs, too, and another member of this party holds 15% of the shares in Loftsson’s whaling company Hvalur hf.

In fact, whaling is largely politically motivated. From an economic perspective, it is pointless and loss-making – except perhaps for Mr Loftsson, who hopes to do more business with Japan. The Icelanders themselves hardly buy or eat whale meat. Loftsson is therefore also looking for new business models such as food supplements or whale beer.

So, after Japan leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC), another country which clings to commercial whaling is now provoking the international community.

“It’s really bad, when the private interests of one single very influential man result in the killing of fascinating and wonderful baleen whales. That’s one more reason to close ranks internationally even tighter to make Iceland rethink and to strengthen those voices within the country which call for an end to whaling,” says Fabienne McLellan, head of OceanCare’s campaign to end whaling.

Whale watching in Icelandic waters is a thriving industry. Thus, the hope remains that Iceland will soon get away from the unholy alliance with Japan and Norway and join those states which want to give these fascinating marine giants the protection and respect they deserve.

Minke whale hunting: at a crossroads in 2018 – resumed in 2019

Iceland’s minke whaling, in which fishermen catch but a few dozen animals a year instead of the permitted 229 and market them through supermarkets and restaurants, is not a profitable business. The demand for minke whale meat is mainly driven by a growing number of naive tourists visiting Iceland. In autumn 2018, minke whale hunters complained that hunting was no longer cost-effective. They have to go out too far and could use the ships more profitably for other activities. In the context of the new Prime Minister’s review process, there was hope that no new quotas for hunting minke whales would be allocated already in 2019, as it no longer makes economic sense. However, referring to the study, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries once again issued a quota of 217 minke whales to be killed in 2019.