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Planet Ark World Environment News Iceland to Resume Commercial Whale Hunts

Date: 18-Oct-06
Country: ICELAND
Author: Gunnlaugur Arnason

Iceland will allow whalers to harpoon a small commercial quota of 39 whales -- 30 minke whales and nine fin whales -- in the year to the end of August 2007. Fin whales are on a Red List of endangered species.

"The Icelandic economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the utilisation of living marine resources in the ocean around the country," the Fisheries Ministry of the North Atlantic island of about 300,000 people said in a statement.

Iceland joins Norway in sanctioning commercial hunts of the giant marine mammals, often eaten as steaks. Japan, the other main whaling nation, says its hunts are for scientific research.

"We are ready to start hunts immediately," said Kristjan Loftsson, head of the Icelandic whaling company that received the hunt permit.

Whaling nations argue stocks have recovered since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) imposed a moratorium on hunts in 1985. Iceland said there were about 70,000 minke whales and 25,800 fin whales in the central North Atlantic region.

Environmental group Greenpeace denounced the decision and said the Icelandic commercial quotas were small, apparently to test international reaction. "I think this is just a test balloon," Greenpeace's Martin Norman said in Oslo.

He said Iceland had been unable to sell all the meat from scientific research hunts in recent years. Iceland said the resumption of commercial whaling was legal under international law because it had a reservation to the IWC ban.

Since 1985, Iceland has sometimes harpooned whales for scientific research, skirting the IWC moratorium. Iceland's research permits include 200 minke whales from 2003-07.

A total of 161 have been caught, leaving 39 for 2007.

Greenpeace says whaling will damage the Icelandic economy by discouraging tourism. It has collected 87,000 signatures from foreigners who say they might visit the country if Reykjavik abandoned whale hunts.

Oslo broke in 1993 with the IWC ban on commercial hunts and allowed a quota of 1,052 minke whales in 2006. Japan caught 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales in Antarctic waters last season in what it called a research programme.

Whaling nations accuse the IWC of being interested only in conserving stocks, not managing them, under pressure from anti-hunt nations such as the United States and Britain.

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