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Declaration by the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries

Declaration by the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries

Iceland decides to conduct a minimal implementation of its research plan for whales

Iceland's national economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the utilisation of living marine resources in the ocean around the country. The sustainability of the utilisation is therefore of central importance for the long-term well being of the Icelandic people. For this reason, Iceland places a great emphasis on effective management of fisheries and on scientific research on all the components of the marine ecosystem. At a time when many fisheries around the world are declining, or even depleted, Iceland's marine resources are generally in a healthy state.

No whaling has been conducted in Iceland since 1989. However, for a number of years, Iceland has been realising the necessity of further scientific research on whales to get a better understanding of the interactions between the different whale stocks and other marine species and the role of whales in the marine ecosystem.

There are many different whale species and stocks in the world's oceans. Some of them are in a bad state and are therefore in need of protection. However, most whale populations are far from being in any way threatened or endangered. In fact, scientists agree that there are millions of whales in the world's oceans. The taking of threatened or endangered whales for scientific purposes, or any other purposes, is certainly not justified and is clearly opposed by Iceland. On the other hand, limited taking of animals from abundant populations can not be opposed on environmental or ecological grounds. Quite to the contrary, the need for a comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem of the sea makes it imperative for us to study as much as possible all the different elements of the ecosystem, including whales. To ensure sustainability and to conserve the marine environment we need reliable scientific knowledge. Leaving a part of the equation out will result in getting the wrong answers.

Earlier this year, Iceland put a research plan forward for discussion within the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) Scientific Committee. The plan included the taking of 50 sei whales, 100 fin whales and 100 minke whales annually for two years. While there were different opinions on most issues within the Scientific Committee, the Committee did agree that the proposed catch of minke whales is unlikely to have a significant impact on the Central North Atlantic stock of minke whales. In other words, while opinion was split on many issues the Scientific Committee agreed that the proposed catch is sustainable.

A decision has now been made to start implementing the research plan this year. Although all the elements in the plan are scientifically valid and the proposed takes would not threaten the whale stocks in any way, the decision only includes taking animals from one of the three species originally proposed. Only minke whales will be taken, but no fin whales or sei whales. Additionally, although the original plan was to take 100 minke whales during the first year of the plan's implementation, it has been decided to take only 38 animals this year. This compares to a recently agreed estimate by the IWC's Scientific Committee of 43,000 minke whales in Icelandic coastal waters.

The decision to take only 38 minke whales for scientific purposes in 2003 is clearly a minimalist approach. Leaving out the two bigger species of fin and sei whales at the same time as the number of minke whales taken in the first year is decreased shows Iceland's willingness to be constructive and compromise when it comes to whaling issues. Regardless of the abundance of all three species, and the scientific need to conduct the research, several parties that oppose whaling as a matter of principle regardless of stock abundance stated their concern regarding Iceland's original plan. Iceland hopes that this minimalist approach will meet most of those concerns. The take is far below that of the biggest whaling countries: the United States, Japan, Russia and Norway.

It should be stressed that this whaling is in no way connected to the reservation Iceland made upon joining the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Iceland could have engaged in this activity in the same way if it had made no reservation. Whaling for scientific purposes is an activity that all members of the IWC have an undisputed right to conduct in accordance with Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which establishes the IWC. This right comes with the obligation to utilize the products of the animals that are taken. The products will therefore be utilized as practicable.

The proceeds from selling the products, which will go to the domestic Icelandic market, will fall short of covering the cost of conducting the scientific research. In fact, the cost is likely to be manifold the value of the whale products. The government of Iceland has therefore decided to provide funds for the research in view of its importance for maintaining Iceland's long-term policy of sustainable use of living marine resources.

The main objective of the research is to gain knowledge on the role that minke whales have in the marine ecosystem, especially their interaction with fish stocks. Following are the research objectives, as set out in the scientific plan's executive summary: Increase the knowledge on feeding ecology of minke whales in Icelandic waters by studies on diet composition, energetics, consumption of different prey species and multispecies modelling. Comparison of the genetic structure of minke whales off Iceland, Norway (including the Jan Mayen area), the Faroes and Greenland. Monitoring and evaluation of the morbidity of potential pathogens. Temporal changes in biological parameters. Pollutant burden and evaluation of the health status of individual whales and populations. The applicability of nonlethal research methods.

Attached is an information paper containing some questions and answers regarding this minimal implementation of the scientific research plan.

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