It appears 2018 will be a deadly year for whales in the northern hemisphere, as both Norway and Iceland have issued their highest whaling quotas in years. In all, as many as 1,287 minke whales could be killed by Norway, while the Icelandic government has issued a base quota of 217 minke whales and 209 endangered fin whales. These quotas have not been approved by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and defy the intent of the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling.
The Norwegian whaling season opened the first week of April. Some 15 vessels requested a whaling permit—up from 11 last year, when 432 minke whales were killed. Two vessels in particular, the Reinebuen and the Kato, were responsible for the greatest number of whales taken in 2017; both are engaged in exporting whale products to Japan. As domestic demand for whale products in Norway continues to wane, Norwegian whalers are struggling to turn a profit, and even the companies linked to the two whaling leaders have seen falling income in recent years.
In Iceland, the Hvalur hf whaling company announced in April that it would resume hunting fin whales on June 10, after a two-year hiatus. Hvalur exports fin whale meat and blubber to Japan, some of which ends up as dog treats. The company has seen little profit from its exports, however, and has explored alternative ways to make money from killing whales. Hvalur is now developing iron supplements from whale meat and is rendering bones and blubber to make gelatin and food additives. The announced resumption of fin whaling caused an immediate outcry, including from the “Don’t Buy from Icelandic Whalers” coalition—of which AWI is a founding member. The coalition has gained commitments from several seafood retailers not to buy seafood from Icelandic seafood company HB Grandi due to its ties to Hvalur. High Liner Foods, Wegmans, and Ahold (the parent company of Stop & Shop and Giant) are among the dozens of companies that have made the pledge.
Until recently, Hvalur held over 34 percent of HB Grandi’s shares and Hvalur CEO Kristjan Loftsson chaired the seafood company’s board of directors. Two days following the announcement that Hvalur would resume fin whaling came the news that Hvalur would be selling its HB Grandi shares to another company. HB Grandi CEO Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson admitted to AWI that the sale of the shares were indeed due to Hvalur’s decision to resume fin whaling, and that marketing seafood had become difficult due to the whaling issue. At its May 4 annual meeting, HB Grandi shareholders voted for a new board of directors. For the first time since the company was founded in 2004, Kristjan Loftsson was not elected.
The whaling issue has also been raised in the Icelandic Parliament, and the prime minister has indicated her intention to thoroughly review whaling’s impact on Iceland’s image and economy prior to renewing any quotas in 2019.