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Iceland to resume whale hunting this month
( 2003-08-07 13:31) (Agencies)

Iceland plans to resume whaling this month, hunting 38 minke whales in August and September, its Ministry of Fisheries said on Wednesday, sparking angry protests from the country's tourism industry.

Iceland has not hunted the sea mammals since 1989, when Reykjavik succumbed to international pressure, but in June it told the International Whaling Commission (IWC) it intended to resume scientific whaling.

Some Icelandic marine biologists say there are now so many whales that Icelandic fish catches are threatened. An estimated 43,000 minke whales are believed to be living in Icelandic waters, eating two million tons of fish and krill every year.

Despite decades of protection, seven of the world's 13 great whale species remain at risk, including fin and sei whales which Iceland plans to catch, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) conservation group.

The North Atlantic nation plans to hunt 100 minke whales, 100 fin whales and 50 sei whales in the next two years.

"It has now been decided to launch the part of the plan relating to the minke whale this year," the Ministry of Fisheries said in a statement.

Whale meat and other products are popular in Japan, which carries out what it calls scientific research whaling. Norway engages in commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC moratorium.

The three pro-whaling nations say that, while endangered species should be protected, other whales such as the minke are now numerous and hunting should be allowed under strict control.

"In the first year of the research, fewer minke whales will be hunted than previously planned, 38 instead of 100, as the whaling begins later in the year than in the original plans, or in the middle of this month," the ministry statement said.

The WWF argues the scientific label is merely a cover for commercial exploitation of endangered species.


Iceland refused to sign a commercial whaling moratorium agreed in 1986 and stormed out of the IWC in anger over the ban, before rejoining the organization last year.

A vast majority of the people of Iceland, which has a long whaling tradition, are in favor of the hunt, with opinion polls showing up to 75 percent supporting it.

But the country's tourism industry with whale-watching tour operators in the frontline warned that foreigners might start to boycott Iceland and Icelandic fish products.

"We fear a strong reaction abroad, and...a terrible side effect on the tourist industry and fish export," Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson, chairman of the Icelandic Whale Watching Association, told Reuters.

Jon Gunnarsson, head of the pro-whaling group Ocean Harvest, said he did not fear the decision would harm Iceland's economy.

"I think whaling could contribute to the tourist industry in Iceland," he told Reuters. "Before whaling was stopped, the whaling station was one of our most popular tourist sights."

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