I want to try and explain why Iceland conducts whaling and why we will not give it up.
The first reason is that whaling is important to our economy. Income is generated from the sale of whale meat and 200 seasonal jobs rely on the whaling industry. In a country with a population of 300,000, 200 jobs are significant, particularly considering the economic crisis that we currently have.
Whales also have an indirect economic impact on the rest of our fishing industry, which is absolutely crucial to us. We export about 95% our fish catch and thousands of jobs are generated by the commercial fishing industry.
But there is competition between the whales and fishermen. Minke whales, for instance, eat cod whilst fin whales feed of food that fish also feed on. We have produced estimates that show if we conduct sustainable whaling we would also be able to have higher quotas on commercial fish catches.
But the most important reason to understand why we do whaling – and this is often forgotten – is the principle. This is about the right of a coastal state to exploit its living marine resources in a sustainable manner.
Many NGOs and anti-whaling countries see the oceans as some sort of giant zoo or sanctuary. But we look upon the ocean as a resource which we have a right and obligation to utilise in a sustainable manner for both ourselves and future generations.
The talks in Morocco broke down because the anti-whaling countries were not willing to find a compromise. The obvious compromise between sustainable whaling countries and anti-whaling countries will be limited whaling with reduced quotas. But it seemed there are so many anti-whaling countries who are simply not willing to agree to that.
A proposal for a ban on international trade in whale products was also something that was brought up at the last minute by the anti-whaling nations. It was never discussed in the support groups in the lead up to the conference and it was something that we could never agree to.
Iceland is a country that lives off the export of its fisheries so as a matter of principle we can never allow limitation or restrictions on our sustainable resources.
Tomas H. Heidar is Iceland’s Whale Commissioner