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Cablegate: Iceland Resumes Commercial Whaling and International Trade

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RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRK #0105/01 1621148
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 101148Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3675
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0030

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000105

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COPENHAGEN FOR ESTH HUB

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV EFIS KSCA PREL IWC ETRD IC
SUBJECT: ICELAND RESUMES COMMERCIAL WHALING AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
IN FIN WHALE MEAT

REFS: A) Reykjavik 57 B) 06 Reykjavik 388

1. (SBU) Summary: On May 19, the Icelandic Minister of Fisheries
Einar Gudfinsson (Independence Party) quietly issued a quota for
commercially hunting 40 minke whales for the domestic market. The
Icelandic Foreign Minister, along with the other ministers from the
coalition Social Democratic party, publicly responded that they did
not agree with the quota. Further, although they acknowledged the
decision was within Gudfinsson's power, the Social Democratic
ministers felt the quota sacrificed greater interests for lesser
ones. On June 2, the Icelandic media reported that 60 tons of fin
whale meat (from the seven whales caught in fall 2006) had been sent
to Japan. The local environmental NGO believes the export was not a
commercial deal but a political ploy to pressure the government for
more fin whale quota. Gudfinsson said opponents of whaling would
have to admit whaling is justified now that a market has been
established and he did not preclude the issuance of more quotas.
End Summary.

2. (U) On May 19, the Head of the International Office at the
Ministry of Fisheries and Iceland's Commissioner to the
International Whale Commission (IWC) Stefan Asmundsson telephoned
Econoff to say that Minister of Fisheries Einar Gudfinsson would
quietly issue a quota for 40 minke whales to satisfy the domestic
market for whale meat. Asmundsson said that this quota was based on
the Marine Research Institute's 2007 recommendation that 400 minke
whales could be harvested without impact on the stock. By the end
of the day, Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, who is
not in Gudfinsson's Independence Party, but rather the coalition
Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) party, posted a response on the SDA
website. It said that the six SDA ministers (out of the twelve in
the Cabinet) opposed Gudfinsson's decision and, in what appeared to
be a veiled reference to Iceland's United Nations Security Council
bid, argued that it sacrificed long term gains for short ones.

3. (U) Two weeks later, on June 2, the Icelandic media reported
that whaling firm Hvalur hf. had exported 60 tons of Icelandic fin
whale meat to Japan. This meat came from the seven fins hunted in
fall 2006 when commercial whaling was restarted and was presumably
kept in cold storage since. Gudfinnsson, in comments to the media,
noted that whaling opponents had always argued that there was no
reason to hunt whales because the products would not sell; now those
parties would have to admit whaling is justified as a market has
been established. He added that he did not preclude the issuance of
more quotas. In response, Gisladottir said it was pointless to say
anything specific about the sale and referenced her earlier
statement regarding the minke quota.

4. (SBU) The IWC Commissioner Asmundsson told Econoff on June 6
that this was a legal trade and purely a private commercial deal
with which the Ministry had no involvement. He said that even if
the Ministry knew of the trade beforehand "it would not have been
proper to reveal that the export permits had been applied for."
Asmundsson said that when Iceland decided to resume commercial
whaling in October 2006, the ability to trade internationally in
whale products was resumed at the same time. Iceland has a
reservation against fin whales being listed on CITES Appendix 1, and
post attempted to get copies of the CITES certificates for export.
After several offices denied that they had responsibility for such a
certificate, we located copies of the certificates at the
Directorate of Fisheries within the Ministry of Fisheries. These
certificates were filed in mid-May.

5. (SBU) On June 7, the owner of Hvalur hf., and only fin whale
hunter in Iceland, Kristjan Loftsson told the Icelandic State media
that he had not received the necessary permits from Japanese
authorities to sell the meat, but that the meat was already in
Japan. Loftsson said nothing was unusual and that customs and
importation procedures take time. The local environmental NGO
Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) told Econoff that the
company that received the shipment in Japan was "resurrected" by the
wealthy Loftsson just for this deal. INCA believes this transaction
was not a commercial deal but rather a political ploy by Loftsson to
put pressure on the Icelandic government to issue Loftsson a further
quota.

6. (U) As of June 9, five of the 40 minke whales covered by the new
quota have been killed and fresh whale meat is available in
Icelandic grocery stores. No new whaling quotas have been issued
beyond the minke quota. According to Asmundsson, the 2006 quota for
nine fin whales, of which seven were caught, has expired.
Asmundsson would not tell Econoff whether there was a petition for a
new quota for fin whales.

REYKJAVIK 00000105 002 OF 002

7. (SBU) Comment: The opposition to the minke quota by half of the
Cabinet was a different response from when commercial whaling was
restarted in fall 2006. The Social Democratic Alliance, then in
opposition, publicly defended Iceland's right to whale and only
expressed reservations about possible reactions from Iceland's
friends. Today, SDA's criticism of a fellow Cabinet minister
indicates that there is concern with international reaction to
whaling and its effect on Iceland's UN Security Council bid. Whether
new commercial quotas will be issued for fin whales or more minkes
will undoubtedly be determined by the level of international
reaction to recent events and whether an export market has been
truly established in Japan.


VAN VOORST

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