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By Lowana Veal
As soon as they arrive with the fin whales, also known as fin or winged whales, they are cut up. But where is the meat sold? How much money does the activity leave to the national economy? Do your costs exceed the profits?
All whale meat is sent to Japan, but Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company that hunts fin whales, has encountered great resistance to transport them to the main market for this cetacean, the Japanese, and had to request a boat to do so directly, which undoubtedly implies an additional cost.
IPS was unable to confirm the final destination of the fin whale meat that was shipped to Japan earlier this year.
Two months after arriving in Japan, a source from that country consulted by IPS, who did not want to reveal his identity, said: "A colleague told me that whale blubber was still in cold storage at customs in Osaka."
The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik acknowledged that at least some fin whale meat is sold in their country, but actual figures are not available. Earlier this year, a group of North American animal rights and environmental organizations began to pressure companies in the region to stop buying fish from Icelandic company HB Grandi, because of its ties to Hvalur hf.
Almost immediately, the Canadian-American company High Liner Foods declared that it would not buy any more fish from HB Grandi. Others followed in his footsteps, including the US food chain Whole Foods.
The activists also called on the president of the United States, Barack Obama, to make use of the Pelly Act, which allows him to place an embargo on part or all of the fish production of countries whose actions undermine a conservation treaty. In this case, it is the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Obama decided to apply the law, but so far through diplomatic rather than economic action. Washington did not invite Iceland to the international conference "Our Ocean", organized by the United States in June.
In addition to the well-known Pelly Agreement, there is also the Packwood-Magnuson amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act, which enables the president to prevent a foreign fleet from fishing in jurisdictional waters of the United States if he considers that the country involved decreased the effectiveness of an international conservation program.
In 1984, Iceland and the United States entered into an agreement whereby the former would obtain fishing permits in American waters if they agreed to stop whaling. Due to various complications and despite the fact that Iceland stopped hunting whales on a large scale in 1986, it was not able to start fishing in American waters until 1989 and it was only a few tons.
Last spring, the parliamentarian of the center-right Social Democratic Alliance, Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir, and seven other opposition legislators presented a resolution ordering an investigation into the economic and commercial repercussions of whaling for Iceland.
There was no time to discuss the initiative in the parliamentary session that ended in May, but Ingadottir reviews and updates the proposal to send it to the one that begins in late September.
“There are two main issues in the proposal. One has to do with the commercial and economic interests of the country, and the second has to do with Iceland's image on an international scale, ”he told IPS.
According to a report published in 2010, between “1973 and 1985, when Hvalur hf hunted whales on a large scale, whale processing used to account for 0.07 percent of gross domestic product. But the actual contribution of the activity to the economy is not known ”. These numbers do not include the beaked whale.
Ingadottir, an economist by profession, considered the figure to be very low. “At that time, whaling was an entire industry and it was practiced systematically. Since then, several large industrial and commercial companies have appeared, so the figure is likely to be lower, ”he observed. Gunnar Haraldsson, director of the Institute for Economic Studies at the University of Iceland and one of the authors of the report, told IPS: “The problem is that there are no official figures on the gains from whale watching and various other parameters, for what it is necessary to collect those specific data. So we have to do a new study if we really want to know what the profits (and costs) are. "
The Whale Watching organization flourished in recent years and at least 13 companies organize whale watching. Between 2012 and 2013, there were 45,000 new people interested in the activity, reaching around 200,000 people a year.
Three MPs called for an investigation into whaling in the fall of 2012. A commission was then created to monitor the organization and its whaling arguments, but it came to nothing. "The commission has never been dissolved, but it has not met since the new government took office (in May 2013)," official Asta Einarsdottir, from the Ministry of Industry and Innovation, told IPS.
Einarsdottir said the commission was quite large and included representatives from the conservation and sighting sectors, as well as the whaling industry and various ministries.
In parallel, the whaling conflict ended up damaging the Icelandic lamb. In recent years, this was exported to the United States and sold in the Whole Foods chain of stores under the name "Icelandic Lamb."
But last year, the company decided not to market it as Icelandic because the country's whaling activities had given it a bad reputation.
But since the expected sales increase did not take place, strong pressure had to be exerted to convince them to continue selling the meat anyway.
Ingadottir was frank in asking: “Are they hurting our interests? Are they protecting a small group rather than the national interest? What do we actually protect with whaling? "Iceland will have to find very good reasons to continue whaling," he said.
Edited by Phil Harris / Translated by Verónica Firme