A New Chapter in the Icelandic Whaling Saga

Conservation news


A threatened vote of no confidence, a ministerial resignation and a business suing the government for loss of income. The never-ending domestic controversy over Iceland’s whaling fleet is once again causing ripples way beyond the North Atlantic Ocean.

Last year’s suspension of whaling by Iceland’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries was led by Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir, after a government commissioned report concluded that it was incompatible with national animal welfare rules.

After it briefly resumed operations in late summer, the whaling fleet was once again sent back to port after it was observed to have caused the agonising and lengthy death of a whale due to either “faulty equipment” or incompetence of the whalers, depending on whose version of events you believe.

The owner of the Hvalur whaling fleet, Kristján Loftson, complained to the Icelandic Government’s Ombudsman, arguing that the whaling suspension had resulted in loss of livelihood and income. To the dismay of many marine conservation groups, the Ombudsman subsequently decided that the suspension decision was flawed and that the Minister had acted unlawfully.

This decision resulted in a knock-on vote of no confidence for Svavarsdóttir in the Icelandic Parliament, but she stepped aside before it took place, and has been replaced by a colleague, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement.

Speaking to the Icelandic media outlet mbs.is on Wednesday, Gunnarsdóttir was pressed on whether she would issue Loftson with a whaling permit for this season, which is due to start in June.

It's fair to say she was evasive on this point. I'm waiting here for certain documents that I need to get my hands on before I can finish making a decision on these matters. That's where it stands right now and I will, of course, speed up the process as quickly as I possibly can," she said.

According to Iceland Review, the ministry had only been willing to issue a licence for one year at a time and was asking the company to clarify if and how it adhered to certain stipulations in laws and regulations. Reading between the lines, this almost certainly centres around the conclusion in the government-commissioned report that whaling (as undertaken by Hvalur) cannot ever be humane.

Loftson, who applied for his licence back in January, says the Government is conspiring against him. .

It’s clear in my mind that the ministry under the leadership of the Left-Greens is disregarding the conclusion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and continues methodically on its mission of destroying this industry, even though it’s operating on legal grounds,” Kristján said. “When we don’t know if a licence will be issued we can’t start hiring people and buying supplies, which is a necessary prerequisite for whaling.”

His bigger challenge it seems is demonstrating that an antiquated, loss-making industry characterised by cruelty, inhumane slaughter methods and which sullies Iceland’s reputation on the international stage is something that should still be pursued in the 21st century.

Despite commercial whaling decimating whale populations globally for over a hundred years, there are still countries that think it is acceptable to hunt and kill whales for profit. Our work plays a vital role in helping to put pressure on UK and other governments to drive an end to commercial whaling globally, so please support us at www.orca.org.uk/donate to help us continue this important work.

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