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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Around 30 boats are licensed to take part in the hunt which can kill more than a thousand minke whales during a five month season starting on 1st April. Despite an international ban on commercial whaling, Norway has continued to hunt minke whales in the North Atlantic since 1993 through a legal ‘objection' lodged against the ban and has increased its self allocated quota at an alarming rate in recent years, from 670 in 2004 to 796 in 2005 up to 1052 in 2007.
"Norway has raised its self-allocated quota year after year, despite international condemnation of its commercial whaling. But demand is falling for whale meat in Norway, like everywhere else, and last years' season showed that this is a wasteful and unnecessary industry. We hope that this year they again fail to kill the number of animals they have allocated and consider stopping the hunt altogether," commented Sue Fisher, WDCS' US Policy Director, an international whale protection charity.
In the last ten years Norwegian whalers have fulfilled their quota only once, in 2001, when the quota was much lower at 546 minke whales. Debate has raged as to whether the domestic market can sustain the ever increasing quotas. Last year, the whaling season was suspended for three weeks because whalers could not sell the products from the animals they had already killed. The Government also extended the season to allow the whalers more time to fulfil their quota.
Despite last year's struggle to both kill and sell the high numbers of whales allocated, this year's quota of over 1000 whales includes a 30% increase in the number of animals to be killed in the easier-to-reach coastal waters. In recent years, whalers have largely ignored the quota assigned to Norway's far distant Jan Mayen territory. Last year, none of the 443 whales assigned to that region were hunted and whalers called on the government to allow more hunting in the coastal zone. As a result, for 2007 the allowance in mainland coastal waters has been increased to 900 minke whales from 609 in 2006, while the Jan Mayen quota has been reduced to 152.
Whalers have cited poor weather conditions and high fuel costs as reasons for wanting to hunt close to shore. However, it may not be in their interests to do so. Meat from coastal whales is likely to contain higher levels of contamination, a fact acknowledged by the whalers themselves. This week, an official from the Norwegian Rafisklaget (The Norwegian Fishermen's Sales Organisation) expressed the hope that the whalers will target younger whales for their better – and WDCS, suggests, perhaps less contaminated – meat.
Additionally, coastal hunts are more likely to come into contact with whale-watching operations. In July last year, whalers killed a minke whale in front of a boat load of whale- watching tourists. WDCS's Sue Fisher continued "Whale watching is becoming increasingly valuable and Norway, like Iceland, is risking this industry for the sake of one off profits from the sale of meat."
Not only does Norway's continued commercial whaling threaten a potentially lucrative growth in the whale-watching industry, but has cost the Government in subsidies including fuel tax exemption, storage of and processing of blubber (for which there is no domestic market) and millions of kroner on research pay-outs.