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Norway Whalers Land Only Half of Quota

Date: 21-Aug-06
Country: NORWAY
Author: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

"A total of 523 whales have been caught," Per Rolandsen of the fishing association in Svolvaer, north Norway, which handles the meat, told Reuters on Friday. "A few smaller whales might still be landed but we can say the season's over."

Rough seas and high fuel costs with oil prices at US$75 a barrel had discouraged whalers, he said. Hunters need calm seas to spot the black and white minke whales when they surface to breathe.

Oslo, which resumed commercial hunts of minke whales in 1993 despite an international moratorium, angered many nations this year by raising its quota to 1,052 -- the highest in two decades and above recent years at about 750.

Opponents of the hunt said the 2006 shortfall indicated that Norwegians were going off whale meat despite Internet-based campaigns, such as http://www.hvalbiff.no, with recipes including whale wok, whale burgers or whale pasta.

"People don't want to eat whale meat any more and its role as a nationalistic food is fading," said Truls Gulowsen, a spokesman for Greenpeace environmental group.

"Whaling has a very high political priority in Norway but a low priority among citizens and among fishermen who don't bother to go to the whaling grounds," he said.

Norway's parliament has long-term plans to raise minke catches back to historical levels -- around 1,800 a year. It says that stocks are plentiful at about 107,000 in the north Atlantic.

FUEL PRICES

The High North Alliance, which represents the interests of whalers, said a main reason for the 2006 shortfall was that hunters did not catch a single whale of a quota of 443 around the North Atlantic island of Jan Mayen, halfway to Greenland.

"It takes a long time to go to Jan Mayen, the weather is risky and fuel prices were high," said Laila Jusnes of the alliance.

And the whalers got off to a bad start because of rough weather in April. Fresh whale meat is leanest and most popular at the start of the season -- whales tend to get fatter in summer.

Britain led a protest by 12 nations also including Spain and New Zealand this year saying the 1,052 quota was "premature and not based on the best scientific advice". Oslo rejected the protest, saying minke whales were plentiful.

Whaling nations, led by Japan and Norway, won a victory at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in St. Kitts and Nevis in June by winning a slim pro-whaling majority for the first time in two decades. The vote did not affect the moratorium on hunts.

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