Norway’s Deadly Export: Whale Meat

The Scandinavian country has killed a record number of the marine mammals this year in defiance of an international moratorium on commercial whaling.

Norwegian whalers carve up the carcass of a whale off the coast of northern Norway. (Photo: Reuters)

Oct 27, 2014· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

Norway has killed record numbers of whales this year, but its whaling industry has a marketing problem: Many Norwegians oppose the practice. So what’s a Scandinavian whaling company to do? Try to export tons of meat to another Nordic country, in this case Iceland, which operates its own controversial whaling industry.

On Monday, the Animal Welfare Institute and NOAH, a Norwegian animal rights group, released documents obtained through the Norwegian Freedom of Information Act showing that the whaling company Lofothval wants permission to export up to 22,000 pounds of whale meat to Iceland.

“The request comes barely a month after the United States government raised concerns about Norway’s escalating whaling and trade in whale products during the recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC),” AWI said in a statement.

A U.S. State Department official urged Norway and Iceland to stop their whale hunts. "The United States continues to support the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling—a necessary measure for the conservation of large whales," the official, who did not want to be identified per protocol, said in an email. "The United States believes that all countries—including Iceland and Norway—should end commercial whaling activities and trade in whale products."

This year, Norwegian whalers have killed 731 minke whales, the most since Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993. But demand for whale meat in Norway is declining, according to AWI, forcing Norwegian whalers to expand exports to other whale-eating markets for the 1.9 million pounds of meat it has collected.

Iceland not only imports whale meat but also itself permits commercial whaling. Since 2006, the Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has killed more than 500 fin whales for export to Japan, earning an estimated $50 million.

“Iceland’s escalating whale hunts are clear and willful abuses of the IWC’s moratorium as well as the ban on international commercial trade in whale products,” according to a report issued by AWI, the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

The United States recently imposed diplomatic measures against Iceland for its whaling trade.

“We believe that these same penalties should be imposed on Norway,” the AWI said.

Norway objects to the whaling moratorium.

So what can the U.S. and other governments do about the continuing illegal trade in whale meat? A lot more, activists contend.

“Norway was certified by the Department of Commerce in 1994 for undermining” the moratorium, AWI Executive Director Susan Millward said in an email.

But instead of imposing penalties to compel compliance with the treaty, the United States and Norway agreed to conditions under which the U.S. government would refrain from imposing sanctions.

“One of those conditions was that Norway would not trade whale meat internationally,” Millward said. “Norway is now violating this condition. Consequently, the U.S. could—and should—impose sanctions.”

One reason why Norway wants to boost whale-meat exports is domestic concern about whaling.

“There have recently been efforts to promote whale meat to a wider audience, including following the example of Iceland, where whale meat is being sold as a high-end ‘traditional food,’ ” Millward said.

What is Norway’s rationale for supporting the illegal trade?

“The Norwegian government is making much the same arguments as has been made by Japan and Iceland, noting that whales are consuming too many fish,” Millward said. “A Norwegian government publication justifies whaling by stating that minke whales off northern Norway consume about 1.8 million tons of prey from April to October.”

Norway argues that whales must be “managed” to protect the ecosystem. “But as numerous studies have shown,” Millward said, “these arguments are false.”