The owner of the Icelandic whaling company that has killed seven endangered fin whales despite an international outcry said yesterday he was now going to export the meat to Japan in defiance of a trade ban.
Kristjan Loftsson, the chief executive of the whaling company Hvalur, told The Daily Telegraph that there was “no problem” about finding markets for the meat in Japan and “no restriction on whale exports to Japan”.
It is the first time his fleet of four vessels — two British and two Norwegian — has been used since 1989.
Mr Loftsson said: “We are back in business with about 100 tons of excellent eco-friendly whale meat and blubber ready for the market.”
He added though that they had stopped whaling for this year because of bad weather and little daylight.
Mr Loftsson said he disagreed with the rationale used to list the fin whale as “endangered” on the Red List compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN].
The 60 to 70ft fin whale, the second largest animal after the blue whale, was put on the list, says the IUCN, because almost three-quarters of a million were taken in the southern hemisphere between 1904 and 1979 along with vast numbers of blue whales, of which fewer than 1,500 remain in the world.
The fin whale’s population is poorly understood in most areas outside the North Atlantic, where recent studies show there are more than 40,000.
Mr Loftsson said there were 25,000 animals in the central North Atlantic between Iceland and Greenland, a population that was calculated by scientists to be close to the pre-exploitation level. The quota of nine fin whales granted by the Icelandic government represented 0.04 per cent of the stock size.
“They say they have been caught so heavily in the southern hemisphere that world stocks are endangered. You can’t do that because these are local populations,” said Mr Loftsson. “Our Marine Research Institute says it shouldn’t have any effect on stocks if you took 150 fin whales a year.”
There is a ban on trade in fin whale meat under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, but whaling countries argue that there are provisions for trade under the International Whaling Commission’s rules.
Clare Sterling, of the International fund for Animal Welfare, said: “Japan has said officially that it will not be buying Icelandic whale meat.
“We think that Iceland has underestimated the reaction to its decision to resume commercial whaling despite the international moratorium.”
Ben Bradshaw, the fisheries minister, last week called on Iceland to respect the moratorium and halt its commercial whaling operations.
He said: “We believe that commercial whaling quotas determined and prosecuted in the absence of any agreed management system undermines the proper functioning of the International Whaling Commission. We urge the government of Iceland to reconsider its position and reverse this decision.”