Thursday 31 May 2018

End of a two-year reprieve for fin whales in Icelandic waters


Iceland’s whalers are preparing to recommence killing fin whales in June.
 
Although having been issued fin quotas by the Icelandic Government in 2016 and 2017, the one whaling company that hunts the species did not take any, for ‘commercial reasons’. (In the meantime, the taking of minke whales by other whaling companies has continued.)
 
Until the fin whale hunt was voluntarily suspended, most of the meat was sold to Japan, and it is expected that this year’s catch will again be exported.
 
Unlike Japan, Iceland does not claim to be taking whales for ‘scientific research’ purposes and there is ongoing controversy in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) over Iceland’s commercial whaling activities.
 
When the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, Iceland registered a ‘reservation’ to the decision, meaning that under Commission rules it was not bound by it. However, just six years later, Iceland resigned from the IWC in protest over what it considered a shift towards increased whale protection, welfare and conservation.
 
Realising its tactical error, Iceland applied to re-join the Commission in 2001. Australia and many other member nations were (and remain) firmly of the opinion that they must re-join under the current prevailing conditions and therefore must be bound by the moratorium, in the same way that a first-time member would be. In other words, they forfeited all their previous membership entitlements when they left the commission, including their right to operate under the reservation.
 
The vote for Iceland to be readmitted with its reservation intact was very close – 19 for and 18 against.
 
Thus, Iceland became a member again, with the IWC unable to act on Iceland’s commercial whaling as the Commission has no powers of enforcement.
 
A quota of 161 fin whales has been issued by the Icelandic Directorate of Fisheries for this season, plus a ‘carry-over bonus’ of 30 from the unused 2017 quota.
 
(After decades of over-exploitation by the whaling industry, fin whales were listed as ‘endangered’ in 2008 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the globally recognised authority on the status of species.)
 


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