Iceland halts catching of fin whales

Iceland has said that no fin whales will be caught around its shores this year, blaming the collapse of the Japanese whalemeat market following the devastating earthquake over four months ago.

The country had a quota to catch 150 whales, but this will not now be taken up. Japan is a major market for Iceland whalemeat.

However, the development comes two months after the United States threatened trade sanctions against Iceland over its hunting of fin whales and export of whalemeat,which could include a ban on fish products.

US Commerce Secretary of State Gary Locke told President Obama that Iceland’s hunt threatened the species, which is globally endangered. The president has 60 days to give his response, which can include trade bans under legislation little known about outside the United States.

Mr Locke said: “Iceland’s disregard for the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) global moratorium on commercial whaling is unacceptable. Its harvest of whales and export of fin whale meat threaten an endangered species and undermine worldwide efforts to protect whales. It’s critical that the government of Iceland take immediate action to comply with the moratorium.”

Iceland has always defended its stance, saying its whale hunting is strictly controlled. Iceland’s Fisheries Minister Jon Bjarnason said he was surprised at the US move given that Icelandic whaling was “based on sound science” and sustainable.

“The annual quota of minke whales is 216 from a stock of approximately 70,000 animals, and the annual quota of fin whales is 154 from a stock of approximately 20,000 animals,” said a fisheries ministry statement.

According to Icelandic media reports the head of a whale processing plant in Hvalfjordur confirmed that there would be no whale meat processing this year, but added that he was preparing for the 2012 seas. The decision is likely to lead to fewer jobs in the region this summer.