By Eiko Yabe
This October, the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture resumed commercial whale hunting for the first time since 2003.
They claim their intention is to “utilize marine resources as fully as they can while not harming any endangered stocks of whales” as well as increasing employment for Iceland—a country now in economic dire straits. The Icelandic government also hopes to familiarize the nation with whale produce so the meat can become a stable source of food. According to various reports, whale meat is increasingly becoming popular amongst the younger Icelandic generations, recently being served up in new styles like sashimi or barbeque.
A big chunk of the whale catch is set to be imported to Japan, a country seen to be Iceland’s largest potential market for the meat. The gourmet experts of Japan favor the Fin Whale, which the International Whale Commission (IWC) estimates there are plenty of in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Icelandic waters. With depleting stocks of Fin Whale in the Antarctic Ocean, it can be assumed that Japan will welcome the new inflow of these whales. However, now that Japan is increasingly avoiding imported food because of continuous safety concerns, their response to Iceland’s (kind of) new export may not be as overwhelming as initially thought. Arni Finnsson, a representative for Iceland Nature Conservation Association says, "There is no market for this meat in Iceland, there is no possibility to export it to Japan; the government appears to have listened to the fishermen who are blaming the whales for eating all the fish.”
Despite strong objections from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Japan have resumed vigorous whale hunts for consumption purposes. In 2007, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan held a press conference about a case in Wakayama where short-finned pilot whales containing ten times the acceptable level of mercury were served in school lunches. This prompted a strong reaction from other nations, who compared this to the Minamata disaster of Japan in 1956, when thousands of people became ill with mercury poisoning after eating fish from the local waters which were contaminated with the substance from a nearby chemical factory.
The next IWC meeting takes place in the UK next week. It will be intriguing to see how they react to this rush of whale hunts, and whether they will show any leniency towards Iceland for their efforts to rebuild their economy, seemingly by scrounging through their available natural resources. This could just be a stunt to appear confident that they can move on from what is effectively a national bankruptcy—but you’ve got to give it to them for trying to do something with the little resources that they have, however discouraging their future looks right now.
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