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Iceland Resumes Whale Exports After 15-Year Gap

Date: 11-Sep-06
Country: NORWAY
Author: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

"We have created a joint trade area between Iceland and the Faroe Islands," Iceland's whaling commissioner Stefan Asmundsson told Reuters on Friday. "There is free trade within that area and whale products are simply one item therein."

"We don't have a limit but I would be surprised if exports this year reached one tonne," he said. Iceland caught 60 minke whales in the North Atlantic in 2006 as part of a scientific research programme.

Iceland resumed whaling in 2003 despite a global moratorium on hunts imposed two decades ago by the International Whaling Commission. It has not exported meat since some sales to Japan around 1990, Asmundsson said.

Japan and Norway also harpoon minke whales, arguing that stocks of the small whales are plentiful, unlike those of endangered species such as the giant blue whale. The meat is usually eaten as steaks.

Asmundsson said the sales were legal even though trade in whales is banned under the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Norway, Japan and Iceland have exempted themselves from the CITES restrictions.

"The Faroe Islands are not covered by CITES," he said. The Faroes, a self-governing region of Denmark, have a population of almost 50,000 on islands between Scotland and Iceland.

But some environmentalists said the sales violated the spirit of CITES because Denmark is a signatory and handles foreign policy for the islands.

"This flies in the face of the intention of CITES," said Arni Finnsson of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association. "Whether it's illegal is a technical interpretation but it undermines the letter of the law."

Replying to a letter from Oslo in 2003, the Danish Foreign Ministry wrote that the "CITES Convention does not apply to the Faroes for the time being." Oslo gave whalers permission to export minke meat in 2001 but has struggled to find markets.

Martin Norman at Greenpeace also said the Icelandic exports reflected a lack of demand in Iceland. "Iceland has always had problems selling the meat in Iceland," he said.

Asmundsson said Iceland's whaling research was coming to an end -- about 160 minke whales have been caught of a planned total of 200 set in 2003. He said that there were no current plans for a new research programme.

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