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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Iceland divided over whaling
By Doreen Walton
BBC World Service business reporter in Iceland

Minke, Ifaw
Can Iceland both watch and kill minke whales? (Image by Ifaw)
Iceland's fishing industry has warmly welcomed the government's decision to resume whaling, even though initially the hunt will be a scientific rather than a commercial activity.

"I am very pleased, I have to say that, to start whaling again," whaling boat captain Gunnar Johansson told BBC World Business Report.

"This is only scientific whaling. We would rather see commercial elements."

But the announcement has also been met with condemnation, not only from anti whaling campaigners, but also from the country's own tourism industry,

Balancing act

At the main harbour in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, the clash between the country's two key industries, fishing and tourism, is immediately apparent.

What I'm worried about is that obviously the first whales to be hunted are the ones coming closest to the boats, which are also the ones we want to see
Whale watching tour guide Herdis Sigurgrimsdottir
On one side of pier, there are whale watching boats, with their wide platforms and white railings.

On the other side are fishing boats and recently equipped whaling vessels.

Tourism's economic importance to Iceland is growing.

But fishing remains the mainstay of the economy.

Not prepared

Iceland is proud of its sustainably managed fisheries.

And the government insists that scientific whaling of non-endangered species is necessary to help find out more about the marine ecosystem - like how many fish the whales eat and their impact on the fishing industry - in order to allow continued good management.

"[The tourism industry] cannot dictate what another industry does," Fisheries Minister Arni Mathiesen told BBC World Business Report.

"They have known for years and years that the Icelandic authorities may aim at starting whaling some time in the future.

"If they're surprised and not prepared, than I cannot really help them with that."

Staying away

But tourist industry leaders - particularly those running whale watching firms - deny that they could have prepared for the effects of whaling.

BBC News Online's guide to the key species in the whale-hunting debate

"We're in competition with the whale hunting boats," whale watching tour guide Herdis Sigurgrimsdottir told BBC World Business Report.

"What I'm worried about is that obviously the first whales to be hunted are the ones coming closest to the boats, which are also the ones we want to see."

Iceland's return as a whaling nation may also have a wider impact on the country's tourism industry, which accounts for about 13% of the country's income from overseas.

The fear is that tourists will stay away from the country because they object to the killing of whales.

"The Icelandic Travel Industry Association has protested this whaling," said director Erna Hauksdottir.

"We are worried... because there is opposition against whaling in our main markets."

And Iceland's fishing industry could face a similar threat itself.

Anti-whaling campaign groups have raised the prospect of a boycott of Icelandic fish products.

The country would be vulnerable because of its dependence on these products.

But Mr Mathiesen said he is confident that the rest of the world will understand his point of view and that, crucially, the tourists will keep coming even if they disagree with him.

Doreen Walton
"In Reykjavik's harbour, the clash between these two important industries becomes immediately clear."

Iceland restarts whaling
15 Aug 03  |  Science/Nature
Protest over Iceland's whaling plans
15 Aug 03  |  Science/Nature
Iceland to resume whaling
06 Aug 03  |  Science/Nature
Whales' recovery 'vastly overestimated'
24 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature
Whale commission future 'in jeopardy'
19 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature
Greater protection for whales agreed
16 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature
Iceland tourism chiefs warn whalers
07 Apr 03  |  Science/Nature
Iceland bids to resume whaling
03 Apr 03  |  Science/Nature

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