By Simon Gardner
SANTIAGO, June 26 (Reuters) - Reviled by conservationists, Icelandic whale meat exporter Kristjan Loftsson is unapologetic, saying anti-whaling groups and nations are neurotic and that whale meat is highly profitable — and delicious.
Given a wide berth by many at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Santiago, in which anti whale catching nations spearheaded by Australia are separated from hunting nations Japan, Norway and Iceland by an ideological abyss, Loftsson cannot understand what all the debate is about.
"Those who speak loudest, the UK and US, Australia, they used to whale before but they couldn’t manage their whales, so everything is gone. So they have no interest in this any more," Loftsson told Reuters in an interview.
"This is our meat in the ocean. But in Australia and New Zealand, they walk and farm on land," he added. "They are hypocrites. This is not about the whales, it’s about politics."
Loftsson started out as a cook’s assistant aboard a whale catcher aged 13 in 1956, and now runs a company that has four 50-metre (164-ft) whaling vessels.
He caught seven fin whales in 2006, which weigh around 40 tonnes on average each, and is hoping Iceland’s government will raise its national quota to a total of around 35O whales — around the number his company’s catch averaged per year between 1948 and 1985.
"There’s plenty of demand, especially in Japan," he said, referring to the world’s leading whaling nation, which has got around an international moratorium by killing hundreds of whales each year for what it says is scientific research.
Loftsson says he is resuming exports to Japan, where whale meat is a delicacy offered in restaurants and sold on supermarket shelves. Choice whale meat cuts can retail at $50 to $100 a kilo (2.2 lb) in Japan.
Iceland, Norway and Denmark’s Faroe Islands are other markets for Icelandic whale meat, but prices are far lower.
"Whales are just like any ordinary fish," he said. "But in Iceland the bottom line is it has to be sustainable. If it is sustainable you do it, and if it is not you stop. We also do that with fisheries, there’s no difference."
"It tastes just like any ordinary, very good red meat. You can eat some of it raw. Depending on which loin (cut) of the whale, whale meat is most like tuna," he added.
Iceland halted whaling in 1989 but resumed in 2003, in defiance of a 1986 moratorium, and has given itself the right to catch 40 Minke whales, which weigh on average between 4-5 tonnes each, this year for commercial purposes.
It maintains stocks of whales in its waters are abundant and so justify the quota.
Loftsson was forced to idle his fleet in the interim, and focus on other interests in fishing.
"We were just sitting there," he said. "That’s Icelandic politics. There are too many chickens in Iceland’s politics, they don’t have any guts."
Loftsson is accompanying Iceland’s official delegation at the IWC meeting.
And aside from dodging the likes of Greenpeace and other anti-whaling enforcers like maritime conservation guerrillas Sea Shepherd Conservation International on the high seas, the biggest challenge he faces as a whaler?
"Whales rot very quickly after they have been shot, so there is a limit how far you can go out and you have to bring it back as quickly as possible," he said.
"No-one wants to buy stinking meat."
(Editing by Sandra Maler)