By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, June 2 (Reuters) - Iceland and Norway have resumed whale meat exports to Japan for the first time since the early 1990s despite a U.N. trade ban, a whale exporter said on Monday.
"This trade will be mutually beneficial for the three main whaling countries," said Kristjan Loftsson, chief executive of Icelandic whaling company Hvalur which provided most of the meat of the giant marine mammals.
He said that Iceland had sent 80 tonnes of fin whale meat caught in the 2006 season, while Norway had exported 5 tonnes of minke whale meat to Japan.
"There are many hungry whale meat lovers in Japan," he told Reuters, adding that the shipment had already arrived in Japan.
Iceland had not exported meat to Japan since the early 1990s, he said. Norway has probably not exported whale meat to Japan since just after a moratorium on international whale hunts was imposed in 1986, a Norwegian official said.
Many countries and environmental groups bitterly oppose harpooning whales, saying that stocks are low after decades of over-hunting ended with the 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Norway has exported whale meat to Iceland and the Faroe Islands, but not previously to Japan, since it unilaterally decided to permit exports in 2001 after a break since the late 1980s, the Fisheries Ministry said.
"Now the exporters have found buyers in Japan," Halvard Johansen, deputy director general of the ministry, told Reuters.
The two Nordic nations and Japan do not recognise a ban on trade by the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, saying it was a political decision.
"It was not made on scientific grounds," Johansen said.
Norway and Iceland argue that the whales are plentiful in the North Atlantic and so do not need protection. Loftsson estimated there were 25,000 fin whales around Iceland and 100,000 minke whales in areas where Norwegians hunt.
Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 despite the IWC moratorium. It has set a quota of 1,052 whales for this season while Iceland has set a quota of 40.
Japan caught 551 minke whales in the Antarctic season that ended in April, short of a target of 850, after its hunting was disrupted by skirmishes with protesters.
Norwegian exports to Japan had been complicated by some Japanese reports saying that whale meat caught in the North Atlantic had high levels of industrial chemicals. Norwegian whalers reject the charge.
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(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)