REYKJAVIK, May 19 (Reuters) - Iceland's government said on
Monday it would allow 40 minke whales to be hunted, ending a
temporary halt to a practice which has angered conservationists.
A ministry official told Reuters that Einar Guoffinsson,
minister of fisheries, had issued the order. The head of a local
whaling association confirmed that fishermen on three whaling
boats were preparing to go to sea from Tuesday.
But Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir distanced
herself and other members of Iceland's coalition government who
belong to the centre-left Social Democrats from the decision.
"The minister of fisheries has constitutional competence for
issuing such regulations and does not have to consult the
government as such," she said in a statement.
"As minister for foreign affairs, I believe this is
sacrificing long term interests for short term gains, despite
the quota being smaller than in previous years."
Before 2006, Iceland had banned commercial whaling for 20
years. It ended the ban that year, issuing quotas that ran
through August 2007. When those quotas ran out, the government
decided not to issue new ones until there was evidence of demand
for whale meat.
"We hope that we will finish the 40-whale quota in the
beginning of July if the market responds well to the meat, as we
believe it will," said Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, head of a minke
whaling association. He said last year 45 minke whales had been
fished and the meat was sold locally.
Jonsson said whaling was important to the Icelandic fishing
community, which had been hit by quota cuts for cod and capelin.
"There are around 50,000 whales in the waters surrounding
Iceland now and I don't believe that the fishing of 40 will make
any difference for the stock," he said.
But the decision is almost certain to anger
conservationists, who applauded Iceland's whaling halt last
year. Many have said that the whale-watching industry is
equally, if not more, lucrative than hunting the animals.
Jonsson said the whalers would work to ensure that their
hunts would not interfere with whale-watching.
"I would say that 95 percent of the whale fishing is much
further away from shore then the whale-watching boats ever go,
but we will make it a point to always let them know when we will
be going out to fish and try not to fish at hours when they will
be whale-watching," he said.