Norway Under Fire For Resuming Whale Trade

OSLO, Norway, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - Norway says its decision to allow the export of minke whale products is based on the principle of the sustainable use of natural resources.

Environmental groups worldwide responded by calling for diplomatic action against Norway, following its announcement Tuesday that it intends to resume sales of whale blubber and meat to Japan.


Minke whale - Balaenoptera acutorostrata. (Photo courtesy Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries)
The minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is the most common baleen whale found along Norway's coast. It usually grows to about 10 meters and weighs 10 tonnes.

In 1983 minke whales were included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This designation bans international commercial trade in an agreed list of endangered species.

Norway entered a reservation against the listing, claiming it was not justified on scientific grounds, which is the criterion required according to CITES’ own rules.

Last April, Norway and Japan attempted unsuccessfully to lift restrictions on commercial whaling but were defeated by delegates at CITES annual conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Norwegian government says estimates of minke whale populations in the Northeast Atlantic and North Atlantic Central carried out by the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) justify sustainable harvesting.

The IWC estimates minke whales number 112,000 in the Northeast Atlantic and 72,000 in North Atlantic Central.

"Norway’s reservation against the listing in CITES provides the country with a sound basis in international law for exporting whale products," said a government statement.

"Trade is a logical consequence of sustainable resource management."


Norway's defiance of a global moratorium on whaling has long attracted protests. (Photos courtesy Greenpeace)
In addition to the CITES listing, a global moratorium on commercial whaling has been in force since 1986, negotiated by the IWC, the sole body authorized to manage the great whales.

Despite CITES and the global moratorium, Norway has been hunting minke whales since 1993, but only for its domestic market. That changed on Tuesday.

According to a whaling quota set by the government, based on recommendations of the IWC scientific committee, Norwegian whalers will be able to catch 549 minke this year.

The country is establishing a DNA-based register for all whales that are part of the Norwegian minke whale catch. Samples have been taken from all whales caught in Norwegian waters in the last few years.

A rapid test can establish whether the product in question was originally part of the Norwegian catch, says the government. The register will be used to monitor trade in Norwegian minke whale products, making it possible to distinguish trade in such products from other sources.

In London, Greenpeace accused Norway of showing contempt by ignoring the internationally agreed trade ban. "Britain must take a lead in condemning this action and preventing the resumption of this destructive trade," said Greenpeace whale campaigner Richard Page.

"Pirate whalers will inevitably take advantage of the cover provided by this trade to smuggle illegal whale meat - from endangered as well as the more abundant species of whale - into Japan."

In Washington, DC, World Wildlife Fund vice president Richard Mott said, "Norway's reckless bid to reopen trade in whale products puts international protections for all whale species at risk."

"The incoming Bush administration should make it clear that U.S. opposition to commercial whaling has not wavered," said Mott.

"Norway, and other aspiring whaling nations, must not misinterpret the U.S. election as a licence to do whatever they want on whaling."


Whale meat prepared for export.
In Sydney, Greenpeace Australia called on the Australian Government to lead the international community in taking strong diplomatic action against Norway.

"If every nation took the same approach as Norway, there would be a proliferation in the trade of endangered species," said Greenpeace campaigner, Bianca Havas.

Paul Watson, president of Sea Shepherd International, called on the U.S. to impose trade sanctions.

"There should be no more negotiations, meetings, warnings, or pleadings - the last eight years have conclusively demonstrated one thing: Such tactics do nothing but make the situation worse," said Watson.

"Norway is saying 'I dare you' to the Bush administration, and with any luck they have finally supplied the rope with which to hang themselves.

"Sanctions now, Mr. President."