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"Opponents of whaling say the slow breeding of these large mammals makes all species vulnerable"
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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Iceland to resume whaling
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By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Iceland says it will resume commercial whaling, perhaps as soon as next year.

Last month it rejoined the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which since 1986 has observed a moratorium on commercial whaling.

Iceland says it will hunt minkes and probably also fin and sei whales off its coasts.

And as Icelanders have lost the habit of eating whalemeat, it looks likely to export most of its catch.

Fish stocks

The Icelandic ambassador in London, Thorsteinn Palsson, told BBC News Online: "Our policy is to resume whaling on a sustainable basis.

"Our parliament has already taken the decision, but the government will decide the timing. The decision won't come this year, I'm sure.

"We'll hunt minkes and probably also fins and seis - these stocks are in great abundance in our waters, and growing fast.

"It's important to preserve a balance in the ecosystem, so one reason for our decision is the need to conserve fish stocks. Scientists have estimated that if we don't start the hunt again, the whales could reduce our cod stocks by 20%.

"I emphasise strongly that we are talking only about a sustainable and limited catch."

Second largest

Mr Palsson could give no estimate of the likely numbers of whales to be caught, but said the hunt would be restricted to within 315 kilometres (200 miles) of Iceland's coast, because it had no historic experience of whaling beyond there.

Minkes are thought to be relatively abundant globally, with upwards of 500,000 animals in the Antarctic.

There is debate about the size of the North Atlantic population that Iceland will be hunting.

The fin whale is the second largest animal on Earth, next in size to the very rare blue whale. It can grow to more than 26 metres (80 feet) in maturity, and globally is believed to number more than 100,000.

The sei whale can reach 16 m (50 ft) in length, and the global population is thought to be about 50,000.

Export market

Mr Palsson told BBC News Online: "All our fisheries decisions are strictly science-based. When the government decides to go ahead, that will be on the basis of what the scientists say.

"We haven't caught any whales for 15 years now, so people in Iceland don't eat whalemeat any more, though they used to. We used to export part of the catch, mainly to Japan, though it's too early to say whether we might do so again.

"We know the IWC moratorium is in force, but we don't consider ourselves bound by it, because we registered an objection against it when we rejoined the Commission in June. So we believe we can be IWC members and yet go back to commercial whaling."

The IWC holds its annual meeting in London from 23 July, and there will again be pressure for the lifting of the moratorium from the two other members that continue to kill whales, Norway and Japan.

Norway is not bound by the moratorium because it objected to it when it was introduced. It catches around 500 North Atlantic minkes a year, and has resumed exports to Japan.

The Japanese fleet catches minkes in the Antarctic, and has also killed sperm and Bryde's whales in the North Pacific. It does this by virtue of an IWC regulation which allows any member state to kill unlimited numbers of any whale species in the name of scientific research.

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29 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Whale row embroils UK and Norway
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