Iceland, one of the only countries that still hunts whales commercially, said Friday it plans to end the practice from 2024 as demand for whale meat dwindles.
For the past three years, Iceland’s whalers have barely taken their boats out into the North Atlantic despite the country’s large quotas.
Demand for Icelandic whale meat has decreased dramatically since Japan — Iceland’s main market, especially for fin whale meat — returned to commercial whaling in 2019 after a three-decade hiatus.
The extension of a no-fishing coastal zone, requiring whalers to go even further offshore, also made Iceland’s hunt more costly.
“There are few justifications to authorize the whale hunt beyond 2024”, Fisheries Minister Svandis Svavarsdottir, a member of the Left Green party, wrote in Morgunbladid newspaper.
“There is little proof that there is any economic advantage to this activity,” she said.
Iceland, Norway and Japan are the only countries that authorize the commercial whale hunt, despite criticism from animal rights activists and environmentalists, concerns about toxins in the meat and a shrinking market.
Iceland’s annual quotas for 2019 to 2023 allow for the hunting of 209 fin whales — the planet’s second-largest species after the blue whale and considered endangered — and 217 minke whales, one of the smallest species.
But for the past three years, Iceland’s two main license holders have suspended their whale hunts, and one of them, IP-Utgerd, hung up its harpoons for good in 2020.
Only one whale has been killed in the past three years — a Minke whale in 2021.
Other issues have also made whaling more challenging.
Safety requirements for imported meat are more stringent than for local products, rendering Icelandic exports more difficult.
Social distancing restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic also meant Icelandic whale meat processing plants were unable to carry out their tasks.
In Iceland’s last full season in 2018, 146 fin whales and six Minke whales were killed.
Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2003 despite a 1986 IWC moratorium, which both it and Norway opposed.
In neighboring Norway, whalers have had similar experiences to Iceland in recent years, struggling to fill their quotas.
The number of boats taking part in the hunt continues to shrink as well.
In 2021, 575 whales were harpooned in Norway, less than half the authorized quota, by the 14 boats still operating.
In Iceland, rather than ending up as steaks on a plate, whales have in recent years become the stars of a flourishing ecotourism scene.
More than 360,000 whale watchers flocked to the waters of the North Atlantic off Iceland to admire the majestic creatures in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic paralyzed the tourism sector.