Iceland Officially Cancels Whaling Operations for the Next Year
Sea Shepherd's Operation Ragnarök stands down with the announcement that Iceland will not resume commercial whaling for the next year. However, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will continue to monitor the trade discussions as Iceland seeks to find ways to skirt international law in an effort to sell toxic whale meat to the Japanese public.
Icelandic Fisheries Minister Einar K. Guofinnsson has announced that the Icelandic government will not issue new quotas for whales when the present quota expires on August 31st.
"I will not issue a new quota until the market conditions for whale meat improve and permission to export whale products to Japan is secured," said Guofinnsson. "There is no reason to continue commercial whaling if there is no demand for the product."
Iceland has been deterred by condemnation from the International Whaling Commission for their illegal slaughter of whales. They have been deterred by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which will not authorize the sale of Icelandic whale meat to Japan. And they have been deterred by international public criticism.
Much of that public awareness came about because of Sea Shepherd's Operation Ragnarok. The announcement in April 2007 that Sea Shepherd was sending its ship Farley Mowat to intervene against illegal Icelandic whaling generated a great deal of media attention towards the issue.
After an 11,500 miles voyage, the Farley Mowat is now in Bermuda and there is no reason to continue on to Iceland. However, Sea Shepherd intends to keep the ship within range of Iceland if there is any attempt in 2008 to kill whales again.
For over twenty years Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been the most aggressive opposition to illegal Icelandic whaling. In November 1986, a Sea Shepherd crew sank half of Iceland's whaling fleet in Reykjavik harbour. In January 1988, Captain Paul Watson flew to Iceland and demanded to be charged for the sinking in order to stand trial in response to Iceland's bogus charges of criminality. Iceland refused to lay charges, a silent acknowledgement that they were well aware of the illegal nature of whaling under international law.
"Iceland knew that to put us on trial would in fact put the nation of Iceland on trial," said Captain Paul Watson. "By refusing to lay charges, Iceland acknowledged that Sea Shepherd's action was a justifiable policing action."
Iceland announced last year it would slaughter 30 piked whales and 9 endangered fin whales. They killed 7 piked whales and 7 fin whales and have not been able to market the meat. They cannot ship it to Japan because of CITES restrictions and most Icelanders will not eat whale meat because of the extremely high levels of toxins including heavy metals in the meat.
"In other words, Icelanders will not eat the meat because it's poison, but they have no qualms about selling poisoned meat to the Japanese," said Captain Paul Watson.
Despite this, Stefan Asmundsson, an officer at the ministry of fisheries, said negotiations for market access to Japan were ongoing.
"We are talking to the Japanese government but so far we have not reached a conclusion on how best to secure the health and quality of the products," said Asmundsson. "Hopefully this will clear up soon as the uncertainty is not good for anybody."
Icelandic whalers angry at the government, insist that they should be allowed to continue to kill whales despite the lack of a market. "In my opinion the minister should not have any say on whether there is a market for our products or not," said Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, who leads a piked whaling association. "How are we supposed to find markets if we don't have a product?"
The whalers of course expect the government to compensate them financially until markets are found.
"The whaling industry, like any other industry, has to obey the market. If there is no profitability there is no foundation for resuming with the killing of whales," said Guofinnsson.
"The bottom line is that whaling is illegal, the meat is unsafe to eat and Iceland is trying to negotiate the sale of a toxic product to the Japanese public," said Captain Paul Watson. "All of this simply underscores the illegal and immoral nature of Icelandic whaling operations and the people who are encouraging the continued slaughter of whales."