Iceland Fisheries Minister signals end of whaling

(Reykjavik – 4 February 2022) – The Icelandic government has publicly signalled an end to Icelandic whaling with the announcement that no new quotas will be issued for an industry with no ongoing economic benefit to the country.

Svandis Svavarsdottir, Icelandic Minister for Fisheries, told media the government is evaluating social and economic impacts of the decision which she anticipates will be negligible following three years without commercial whaling in the country’s waters. Svavarsdottir highlighted that the absence of economic benefits would be the key factor in the decision not to issue government licences for whaling when existing quota authorisations expire next year.

“Japan has been the biggest export market, but consumption of whale meat in Japan has been declining for years. 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?” asked the Minister in the Icelandic Newspaper Morgunbladid.

“This is wonderful news for Iceland, whales in its waters, and its world-class whale watching industry,” said Sharon Livermore, Director of Marine Conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). She added: “The Minister’s thoughtful framing of the situation indicates her government has taken a fresh look at its whaling policy and has come to the same conclusions as the rest of the world. This is an unsustainable, unjustified and unspeakably cruel industry with no place in modern society.”

Ms Svavarsdottir cited the lack of any Icelandic whaling for the last three years as well as the low economic importance of the activity for Iceland as reasons not to renew the whaling quota. Iceland had long tried to find markets for whale meat in Japan and Norway, with little success. In contrast, the negative impact of whaling on the Icelandic economy has been significant, for example the US-based Whole Foods chain halted its marketing of Icelandic products in response to continued whaling in Iceland.

“2020 saw the Icelandic Minke Whalers Association quit its bloody business,” said Livermore. “Only Kristjan Loftsson and his fin whaling company remain.”

According to quota regulations, Loftsson is still allowed to kill fin whales this year, but has not done so since 2018.

“We expect 2022 will mark the fourth year without Icelandic whaling,” Livermore added. “This announcement is the death knell for Icelandic whaling. This proud, stunningly beautiful country continues its migration from whaling to whale watching, harvesting leviathan benefits to its economy. We commend the Icelandic government on this very welcome move.”

IFAW has worked closely with Icelandic advocates, researchers and ecotourism operators since the country resumed whaling in 2006. In collaboration with local whale watch operators, IFAW ran its highly successful ‘Meet Us Don’t Eat Us’ campaign on the streets of Reykjavik, which educated tourists about the reality of whaling and whale meat consumption. This campaign significantly curbed whale meat consumption by visitors to Iceland.

In comparison to the limited domestic market for whale meat, fin whale meat has been exported to Japan since 2010 in an unsuccessful attempt to establish an export market.

Whaling as an issue has vanished from the political agenda within Iceland. The topic was a notorious theme in Icelandic election campaigns for decades, but since 2016 it has decreased in prominence. Young voters are more concerned about climate change, the positive role living whales play in creating healthy ecosystems in the ocean and their contributions towards carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption from the atmosphere.

More than 1,500 fin and minke whales have been killed in Iceland since 2003 – the year the country resumed commercial whaling after a 13-year hiatus. IFAW has worked with Icelanders since this time to promote responsible whale watching as an alternative to the cruelty of whaling.