Thursday, September 6, 2007

Hanging up the Harpoons

A break from our regular programming in updates about my trip with Nordnatur for some actual news from Iceland. After a year of commercial whaling, the Fisheries Minister decided not to issue a whaling quota for next year - and not because of anything having to do with the whales themselves or anything in the environment, but just because the whale meat isn't selling. Even with only catching 14 whales this year, since there's nowhere to sell the meat other than in Iceland (Japan wants more testing before they'll import the meat, although the Japanese also have plenty of whales themselves), there just aren't enough whale meat consumers to eat that much whale.

You can also read the story from the English language news service here.

At this point it's mainly only people worried about the whales eating too many fish who want to keep whaling. This viewpoint is typical about how the fishing industry received the initial decision to resume commercial whaling last year:

"Fridrik J. Arngrímsson, manager of the Association of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners (LÍÚ), told Fréttabladid that whaling will pay off, even if there is no market for whale meat.

Arngrímsson said whales in Icelandic waters compete with the fish for food, and with so many whales, the fish industry loses ISK 10 billions a year (EUR 117 million, USD 146)."

Yesterday, I talked with the manager of one of the largest fishing companies in Iceland, Vinnslustöðin Vestmannaeyjum, who told me the same thing - whales eat too many fish; you can't harvest from part of the ecosystem without harvesting from all of it. Your initial thought might be that these are just people who want to make a lot of money and don't care about the environment, but I don't think that's the case. This company manager, Binni, has been one of the representatives of the fishing industry pushing for the government to stop allocating quotas that exceed the scientific recommendations and stop leaving loopholes in the management system. He emphasized that it's people like him who make their living from the fishery who are most invested in keeping the fish stocks healthy and managing the oceans so that the catch is sustainable for the future. And he also thinks that the way to do that is to catch some whales.

So is the right answer to focus on stop hunting the whales and focus on whales for tourism, as the Húsavík whale museum suggested, or are the whales really such a threat to the commercial fishery that they should instead find some way to use the whales so they can resume hunting? I suspect that the whales aren't really so much of a threat as the fishing industry is making out, and certainly, blaming declining fish stocks on whales is not going to solve any problems. But should Iceland try to go back to whaling to help the fish stocks? Before I started this project, I probably would have said it's obvious that the answer is no, but the more time I spend here, the more complicated it all seems and the less willing I am to give a definitive answer about this or anything else. As the saying goes, the more I know, the more I realize I don't know.

1 comment:

Amelia said...

Hello Hilary, Great blog! My name is Amelia Poole, I am the manager and editor of the World Ocean Observatory ( W2O is place of exchange for ocean information, education and public discourse about the future of the ocean and its implication for global survival. I'm currently working on a project called "Atlantic Memory" - highlighting (just a few) of the 'connections' between people and places that were created by the Atlantic Ocean - from early fisheries and exploration, through the Slave Trade to immigration. My current focus is "The Cod Route" - the connections between Western Europeans and the Northeastern Coast of the US. As you well know, there's a ton of information out there. I read your blog with interest and wondered if you might have any comments or ideas for our project. (PS - it's still in the stack-of-papers on my desk stage)
Another interesting cod/fisheries book: Fish on Friday by Brian Fagan.
Best, Amelia