LONDON – A whaler behind the controversial export of fin whale meat from Iceland to Japan defended the trade Thursday and expressed hope that it will be the start of business between the two nations.
Kristjan Loftsson, chief executive officer of Icelandic whaling company Hvalur, confirmed 80 tons of fin whale meat had been exported to Japan from Iceland along with 5 tons of minke whale meat from Norway.
It is the first time whale meat has been exported from Iceland and Norway to Japan since the early 1990s, he said.
The export resumption has drawn criticism from environmentalists who claim the trade challenges the authority of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
But Loftsson said the trade is legal under CITES as all three countries involved are exempt from the general ban on trade in whale products.
Loftsson said the fin whales had been caught in 2006 and their meat frozen to keep fresh for export.
He said the meat is particularly attractive to the Japanese — who do not hunt fin whales — as it has a nice taste and good texture.
“I have had lots of calls from Japan asking me where they can buy the fin meat. It is similar to Kobe beef,” Loftsson said, referring to the high quality Japanese beef.
He hopes the Icelandic government will agree on new quotas for hunting fin whales in July or August so he can continue exports to Japan.
Loftsson said he does not anticipate any problems and the meat will soon be on sale in Japan after inspection by Japanese customs officials, as is routine for any imported meat.
Environmentalists, who argue the mammals are endangered, say the whales should not be hunted, let alone exported across the world.
Chris Butler-Stroud, chief executive officer of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in Britain, said, “With this export, Iceland is also challenging CITES, the body which governs trade in animal products.
“Last year, CITES overwhelmingly voted against proposals by Iceland and Japan that sought to open the way to a renewed trade in whale products. The whalers are showing no signs of respect for international decisions.
“As the conservation movement has said for decades now, they cannot be trusted. For them, profit is always more important than conservation,” Butler-Stroud said.
And Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan whales project leader, said in a statement, “At this critical stage of negotiations on the future of the International Whaling Commission, which begin in two weeks’ time in Santiago, Japan has the chance to show they are serious about looking to the future by refusing to allow the import.
“If they allow the meat to come in, then it sends a clear signal to the world’s governments that it is whaling business as usual.”
Loftsson argues there are plenty of fin and minke whales to sustain the relatively small hunt and exports to Japan. He said there are currently an estimated 25,000 fin whales in Icelandic waters and 100,000 minke whales around Norway.
Whaling in Atlantic
Four Japanese whaling boats left Tokyo and other ports in Japan on Friday for the North Atlantic to catch 260 whales for “scientific research purposes,” the Fisheries Agency said.