Iceland could ban whaling by 2024, the country’s fisheries minister has hinted.
The small island nation nestled in the Arctic circle is one of the few countries in the world where the controversial practice is still allowed.
The International Whaling Commission agreed to halt the practice by 1986 but Iceland, Norway and Japan have continued to allow the mammals to be hunted for commercial reasons.
In coastal communities it is considered an important part of Iceland’s heritage as a seafaring nation and many think it much the same as fishing.
However, since Japan resumed commercial whaling in 2019, demand for Icelandic whale meat has plummeted:
"Why should Iceland take the risk of keeping up whaling, which has not brought any economic gain, in order to sell a product for which there is hardly any demand?" Fisheries Minister Svandis Svavarsdottir wrote in the Morgunbladid newspaper.
Ms Svavarsdottir also noted the practice had at times hurt Iceland’s economy; in 2006 US chain Whole Foods launched a boycott of Icelandic goods after the country resumed whaling.
Iceland currently has a quota of 209 endangered fin whales and 217 minke whales. However, only a single whale has been killed in the past three years.
The coronavirus pandemic posed huge problems for the whaling industry - with social distancing rules making whale meat factories harder to operate.
The Government of Iceland also extended a no-fishing coastal zone which pushed up the industry’s operating costs.
The announcement was welcomed by environmental campaigners, who have for many decades urged Icelanders to ban whale hunting:
"This is obviously hugely welcome news... and not before time,” Vanessa Williams-Grey of Whale and Dolphin Conservation said.
“Icelandic whalers have killed hundreds of whales in recent years, despite almost zero domestic demand.”
Our long campaign is very close to paying off with Iceland looking to #StopWhaling in 12 months! 🙌 A big thank you to Iceland's Fisheries Minister @svasva for recognising the lack of justification for returning to whaling 🐋🇮🇸 @Vinstrigraen @PresidentISL https://t.co/3mSSlCaPoc pic.twitter.com/TnBQZ16gJ7
— Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) (@whalesorg) February 4, 2022
Tourism is one of Iceland’s biggest industries and whale watching is a hugely popular activity among visitors; an estimated one in five pay to see the country’s whales in the wild.
Main image: Commercial whaling in Iceland. Picture by: Alamy.com.