Iceland resumes whaling, ministry says

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - Iceland’s government said on Monday it would allow 40 minke whales to be hunted, ending a temporary halt to a practice which has angered conservationists.

A ministry official told Reuters that Einar Guoffinsson, minister of fisheries, had issued the order. The head of a local whaling association confirmed that fishermen on three whaling boats were preparing to go to sea from Tuesday.

But Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir distanced herself and other members of Iceland’s coalition government who belong to the centre-left Social Democrats from the decision.

“The minister of fisheries has constitutional competence for issuing such regulations and does not have to consult the government as such,” she said in a statement.

“As minister for foreign affairs, I believe this is sacrificing long term interests for short term gains, despite the quota being smaller than in previous years.”

Before 2006, Iceland had banned commercial whaling for 20 years. It ended the ban that year, issuing quotas that ran through August 2007. When those quotas ran out, the government decided not to issue new ones until there was evidence of demand for whale meat.

“We hope that we will finish the 40-whale quota in the beginning of July if the market responds well to the meat, as we believe it will,” said Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, head of a minke whaling association. He said last year 45 minke whales had been fished and the meat was sold locally.

Jonsson said whaling was important to the Icelandic fishing community, which had been hit by quota cuts for cod and capelin.

“There are around 50,000 whales in the waters surrounding Iceland now and I don’t believe that the fishing of 40 will make any difference for the stock,” he said.

But the decision is almost certain to anger conservationists, who applauded Iceland’s whaling halt last year. Many have said that the whale-watching industry is equally, if not more, lucrative than hunting the animals.

Jonsson said the whalers would work to ensure that their hunts would not interfere with whale-watching.

“I would say that 95 percent of the whale fishing is much further away from shore then the whale-watching boats ever go, but we will make it a point to always let them know when we will be going out to fish and try not to fish at hours when they will be whale-watching,” he said.

Reporting by Kristin Arna Bragadottir; Editing by Elizabeth Piper