Standing on principle

UPDATE | After setting its own whaling quota in 2013, Greenland will again be granted an official exemption from the whaling moratorium

For Greenland hunters, it was an agreement that satisfies (Photo: Asger Walk)

Hector Martin

A two-year dispute between whaling’s international governing body and Inuit hunters in Greenland has come to a “sensible” resolution, lawmakers and hunting groups there say.

“Whaling has significant economic and cultural importance for Greenland, and it is important that we’ve made sure the IWC (International Whaling Commission, ed) understands this,” Aleqa Hammond, Greenland’s premier, said Monday, after commission members, meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, voted by a wide margin to approve a Greenlandic quota.

Until 2013, Greenland, like other countries that traditionally rely on whales as a source of food, had an exemption from the 1986 moratorium on the hunting of large whales.

During the previous IWC meeting, in 2012, member countries voted not to add an additional 10 whales to the Greenlandic quota of 211 whales annually. Without an agreement giving the country an officially sanctioned quota Nuuk set its own limits.

Last year, Greenlandic hunters killed a total of 198 whales – 181 minke, nine fin and eight humpback – and it was the prospect of the country continuing to set unilateral quotas outside of international whaling regimes that led the IWC, marshalled by the US and the EU, to vote in favour of reinstating the quota.

Yesterday’s four-year agreement, which takes effect in 2015 after passing by a 46-11 margin, with three abstentions, will give Greenland whalers permission to take 207 whales – 176 minke, 19 fin, 10 humpback and two bowhead – each year.

Denmark, which represents Greenland and the Faroe Islands on the IWC, nearly withdrew from the body in 2013 in protest over the failure to grant the larger quota. This year’s agreement, said Martin Lidegaard, the Danish foreign minister, had reinstated the country’s faith in the IWC regime.

Critics of the decision, including environmental groups, said the quota is far higher than Inuit communities need, and they worry that the excess meat will wind up being sold.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington-based NGO, Inuit in Greenland only consume 500 tonnes of whale meat a year, despite requesting permission to catch 800 tonnes.

Lidegaard defended the quota, however, arguing it was both sustainable and within the guidelines set by the scientific community.

Relations between Copenhagen and Nuuk have been strained in recent years, but representatives from hunting groups said the ability to secure a whaling quota showed that there were areas where Copenhagen could effectively work on their behalf.

While Greenland was being welcomed back into the IWC system during this year’s meeting, Iceland found its unregulated hunt coming under further criticism from fellow commission members.

Iceland, together with Norway, maintain a commercial whale hunt. Reykjavik has been criticised in the past for its whaling activity and that criticism was repeated in connection with the IWC meeting in the form of a letter submitted to the Icelandic negotiator by 35 countries, including the US, all 28 EU member states, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Mexico,  New Zealand and Monaco calling on the country to end its whale hunt.

“We … wish to express our strong opposition to Iceland’s continuing and increased commercial harvest of whales, particularly fin whales, and to its ongoing international trade in whale products,” the letter read.

Icelandic whalers caught 134 fin whales, which are classified as endangered, in 2013.

The Obama administration has a policy of raising official objections about Iceland’s whale hunt whenever possible, but the Animal Welfare Institute suggested a different tack.

Noting that the Society of American Travel Writers, a professional group, was holding its annual conference in Reykjavik this week, the AWI called on the organisation’s members to refrain from unwittingly promoting Icelandic whaling.

“AWI is encouraging them instead to enjoy a whale-watching trip and dine at the many ‘Whale Friendly’ restaurants that have pledged not to serve whale meat.”

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

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