Whaling could be banned in Iceland within two years due to reduced demand, according to the nation’s fisheries minister.
Iceland’s current quota – which expires in 2023 – allows for 217 minke whales and 209 fin whales to be hunted annually, despite the latter being an endangered species. With only one whale killed by Icelandic hunters in the last three years, however, this quota may not be renewed.
On February 4, Svandis Svavarsdóttir, the fisheries minister, wrote in Morgunblaðið newspaper:
“Why should Iceland take the risk of keeping up whaling, which has not brought any economic gain, in order to sell a product for which there is hardly any demand?”
Activists welcome the change
Iceland is one of the few countries in the world – along with Norway and Japan – that hunts whales commercially despite the United Nations’ international ban. When Japan, the largest market for whale meat, lifted its 30-year commercial whaling ban in 2019, the profitability of Icelandic whaling dramatically decreased.
Animal rights and climate activists welcome the change. Vanessa Williams-Grey, of UK charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said: “Icelandic whalers have killed hundreds of whales in recent years, despite almost zero domestic demand, and declining interest from tourists and the Japanese market.”
She added: “Killing fin whales, an endangered species and the second largest creature on our planet, is nothing short of ecocide, especially given the essential role these gentle giants play in the battle against climate change.”
Whales key to oceanic ecosystem
Whales, particularly baleen and sperm whales, store carbon in their bodies and play a large role in shaping the ocean ecosystem.
A 2010 scientific study found that, before industrial whaling, whales would have sunk 190,000 to 1.9 million tonnes of carbon per year to the bottom of the ocean, equivalent to the annual emissions of 40,000 to 410,000 cars.
Whaling on the decline
Under the UN’s International Whaling Commission (IWC), only subsistence whaling is permitted where it is considered an indigenous activity, as is the case in Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Russia.
Iceland has been a member of the IWC since its creation in 1949. However, since the 1986 international whaling moratorium, Icelandic whalers have hunted more than 1,700 whales.
In 2018, Icelandic whalers controversially hunted and killed a blue whale. Although the current quota window, which began in 2019 and will end in 2023, allowed for over 2,000 whales to be hunted legally, only one whale has been killed in this time period – a Minke whale in 2021.
In 2020, IP-Utgerd, one of Iceland’s two main whaling licence holders, ceased whaling entirely.