Moral Stewards - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Moral Stewards

Moral Stewards

Published August 6, 2013

Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson wrote a piece in the Grapevine on July 2, arguing the case for sustainable whaling. He starts by claiming that whale meat is “a large source of cheap, healthy food,” which is readily “available and hardly utilised.” Then the professor argues that hunting a few hundred whales in Icelandic waters is a fully sustainable practice.
However, the problem is the market. There is no commercially viable market for a few dozen minke whales domestically, so the industry must be considered to be “hobby whaling.” There is no export market in Japan, which used to be the main argument for resuming the hunt. As for fin whales, Icelanders have never eaten fin whale meat, all of it has been exported to Japan, but with the collapse of consumer demand for whale meat, the export process has been very slow. The latest export was in June, from the 2010 season.
In 2012, roughly 870 tons of fin whale meat from Iceland was sold in Japan. However, if Hvalur hf.—the sole company engaged in fin whaling—would fulfil this year’s quota of 154 fin whales, the total would amount to c.a. 1850 tons, more than double the amount sold in Japan last year.
Granted, professor Gissurarson argues that whaling could be a solution to global hunger, while admitting that history is grim as there was “terrible overexploitation of whale stocks in the early 20th century. The International Whaling Commission, IWC, which was established in 1946, was proving ineffective in protecting whale stocks and the majestic blue whale, the world’s largest animal, was almost driven to extinction.”
Fittingly, he omits the fact most stocks of large cetaceans are far from recovery. Instead, he sets up a straw man argument.
Firstly, the “Case for Sustainable Whaling” morphs into a diatribe against the European Union, which is under the sway of radical environmentalists. Moving on, professor Gissurarson argues for the case of whaling by comparing fish and mammals by explaining the Icelandic fishing quota system which is an “an efficient system in their fishery, making it profitable unlike most fisheries elsewhere. However, the demand for whale meat is quite limited thus the comparison is absurd.  Of course, Gissurarson makes no mention of how many years it took Iceland to overcome its challenges in managing the cod stock. Having expelled the British and German trawlers out of their EEZ by the mid 1970s, the only management device was to increase the number of fishing vessels. Only ten years later, the Icelandic fisheries were in a serious crisis and it took at least 25 years to figure out how to best follow scientific advice on how much fish could be taken out of the system—and that had a lot less to do with the ITQ system than the industry’s willingness to accept science.
Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson then launches into the famous pest argument or what is called in academic circles: speciesism. His argument is that whales consume too much fish from the sea barons, according to estimates. Nonetheless, Gissurarson does not delineate which species he is referring to. For example, numbers in one study described the diet of the fin whale and it was stated “that 3% of the food was composed of fish and 97% of planktonic euphausiids” and of the 3%, cod and herring were not part of the examined fin whale corpse. So which whales is he referring to?
Nonetheless, the most interesting argument and illusionary concern set forth in the article is the framework Hannes uses. He commences his article with concerns over rising food prices and ends with pointing out food scarcity among the poor. Therefore, the question needs to be asked: Will Icelandic stewards transport whale meat to poor countries or distribute the meat among those in need here in Iceland? In fact, until now the fin whale meat or the highly efficient seafood processor has ended up as canine food for pampered dogs in Japan. So basically, Japanese dogs have been enjoying fin whale meat. At the same time, Icelandic whale watching companies are blooming and are creating jobs, sustainable ones that do not invoke the ire of the international community—and are making much more money than a few private individuals and their kin.
And now that fin whale meat is being denied access to European ports, how will Hvalur hf. transport it? Well, according to Hannes Gissurarson, the moral thing might just be to fly it to poorer countries at a discount rate since there is little demand elsewhere. Not doing so would be immoral according to his logic.

Árni Finnsson is chairman of the NGO Iceland Nature Conservation Association
Marvin Lee Dupree is a postgraduate student
Read Also:
The Invisible Industry
Whaling Resumes
Anti Whaling Campaign
Whaling Ships Left The Harbour Last Night

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