As Demand Sinks, Whaling Companies Scramble to Stay Afloat

There were high hopes at the beginning of 2022 that fin whaling in Iceland had ended for good. No whaling had been conducted since 2019, and Iceland’s fisheries minister signaled in February 2022 that the current whaling regulations—which expire at the end of 2023—may not be renewed. Sadly, however, 2022 saw a resumption of the hunt. 

Before the summer whaling season commenced, Iceland’s only fin whaling company, Hvalur, reached an agreement to sell all the whale meat from its 2022 hunt to Japan’s remaining whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku. Hvalur subsequently killed 148 fin whales and shipped 2,576 metric tons of frozen meat and blubber to Japan for a reported price of over US$20 million. 

Nevertheless, the interdependent prospects of whaling in Iceland and Japan look increasingly precarious. There is no domestic demand for fin whale meat in Iceland, and Japan is the only significant legally available market. Kyodo Senpaku expected the Japanese government to underwrite the meat purchase, but officials unexpectedly rejected its request right as Hvalur was making final preparations to begin the hunt, leaving the Japanese company scrambling to secure private loans for the purchase. At the same time, it has borrowed heavily to construct a replacement for its aging, dilapidated factory ship, at a cost of ¥6 billion (~US$44 million).

Kyodo Senpaku must repay these loans from sales of whale meat from its own hunts in Japanese waters and its massive import from Iceland. The 6 billion–yen question is whether the declining Japanese market is large enough, and can sustain a high enough sales price, for Kyodo Senpaku to pay its creditors and buy the whales Hvalur is planning to kill this summer without significantly overreaching and defaulting on its debts.

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