Iceland Whalers Announce They Won’t Hunt Again This Year

Iceland harvests a fin whale in 2013    Photo: Sigtryggur Johannsson, Reuters

For the second year in a row, Iceland’s notorious whaling industry will opt-out of their annual hunt, this year blaming coronavirus social distancing restrictions that would make processing the meat impossible.  Many cheered the news since Iceland’s whaling was done under a controversial exception to the worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since the 1980s due to low population numbers of most species of whales.

Why This Matters:  Given that this is the second year of the cessation of Iceland’s commercial whaling, it might just be doomed.  Whale watching is much more popular and economically important to Iceland than hunting, and the two activities are fundamentally inconsistent.  The World Wildlife Fund reports that Japan, Iceland, and Norway — the three countries that hunted the most until recently — have killed over 30,000 whales since the moratorium was established.  Japan recently announced it would no longer whale on the high seas and will do only a minimal amount of coastal whaling.  OK Norway — it’s your turn to stop now.

It’s About Time

Iceland claims that Japan’s move to whale in its coastal waters means lower demand for Iceland’s whale meat there.  Iceland used to export whale meat to Japan, in contravention to a global treaty (known as CITES) banning the international trade in endangered species.  But that is more of a ruse than an excuse because, in fact, it is simply a decrease in demand for whale meat in Japan that is likely behind the decision.  The whaling industry is all but defunct, given there is little market for it in Iceland, and in Japan, the demand for whale meat declined from 203,000 tons in 1965 to 4,000 tons in 2015.

When it last hunted in 2018, according to Greenpeace,  Iceland shipped to Japan 1,500 metric tons of the 147 endangered fin whales they killed that year, flouting the CITES agreement.  According to National Geographic reported that the owner of one of the two whaling companies in Iceland “Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, managing director of the minke whaling company IP-Utgerd, told AFP on April 24, ‘I’m never going to hunt whales again, I’m stopping for good.’”  And Árni Finnsson, chairman of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association told National Geographic that “’What has changed is that the fishing industry is not willing to support him anymore. They feel that Iceland needs to be able to export fish to the U.S. market, and they don’t want to continue defending whaling. I think he’s done.’”  The U.S. under President Obama had imposed diplomatic sanctions on Iceland for its whaling back in 2011.

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