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Viewing cable 09REYKJAVIK25, ICELAND: OUTGOING MINISTER ALLOWS FOR LARGE FIN WHALE HUNT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09REYKJAVIK25 2009-01-30 17:05 2011-01-13 05:05 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Reykjavik
VZCZCXYZ0001
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRK #0025/01 0301710
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 301710Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3968
INFO RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0035
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 0331
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0150
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0016
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 0176
RUEHCP/AMEMBASSY COPENHAGEN 0378
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L REYKJAVIK 000025 
 
SIPDIS 
 
State for EUR/NB and OES/OA 
Tokyo for Bart Cobbs 
Commerce for NMFS WHogarth 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/29/2019 
TAGS: SENV EFIS PGOV IWC IC
SUBJECT: ICELAND: OUTGOING MINISTER ALLOWS FOR LARGE FIN WHALE HUNT 
QUOTA 
 
REF: Reykjavik 20 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Carol van Voorst for reasons 1.4 (b) and 
(d). 
 
1. (U) Action request: paragraph 7. 
 
2. (C) Summary: On January 27, outgoing Fisheries and Agriculture 
Minister Einar K. Gudfinsson quietly issued an order potentially 
allowing a massive increase in Iceland's hunting of fin and minke 
whales.  The order allowed commercial quotas of fin and minke whales 
to be issued according to recommendations of the Icelandic Marine 
Research Institute (MRI) for the next five years.  Although no 
numbers were specified, a ministry official told us that based on 
last year's MRI advice, the quota would likely be 150 fins and 100 
minkes.  A new interim government should be in place by the weekend 
and there is media speculation that the new minister would withdraw 
the order before the first animal is killed.  However, pro-whaling 
forces are claiming that whaling could provide 300 new jobs.  With 
the current economic crisis, the anti-whaling NGO believes the jobs 
argument will carry weight and urged the Embassy to make a loud and 
vocal protest.  Both the British and Swedish Ambassadors have 
expressed to us their interest in a joint response.  We believe a 
strong message must be delivered to the new Prime Minister as soon as 
possible.  End Summary. 
 
3. (SBU) The resignation of the Cabinet on January 26 meant longtime 
whaling supporter and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Einar K. 
Gudfinsson had little time left in office (reftel).  Gudfinsson 
quietly issued a regulation on January 27 that allowed for fin and 
minke whale hunting quotas for 2009 through 2013.  No numbers were 
provided for the total allowable takes, but the numbers will be 
determined by the recommendation of the Marine Research Institute 
(MRI).  Twenty percent of each year's quota can be carried over into 
the next year.  Stefan Asmundsson, Director of International Affairs 
at the Ministry of Fisheries, told Emboff that no decision has been 
made, but based on last year's MRI advice, the quota would likely be 
150 fins and 100 minkes for 2009. 
 
4. (SBU) The authority to determine whaling quotas unilaterally was 
bestowed on the fisheries minister by the Cabinet in 2006. Gudfinsson 
has several possible motivations for issuing such a quota on his way 
out the door.  His voting district is a traditional fishing and 
whaling area; his constituents will remember this bold move when 
elections occur this spring.  His political party has been 
anti-accession to the European Union because of the loss of 
sovereignty and control over fishing resources; whaling is something 
Iceland would have to give up to join the EU and this quota turns the 
whaling question into an issue of sovereignty and self-determination. 
 Gudfinsson's decision also forces the interim government to take a 
stand on a sensitive international and domestic issue immediately. 
Although the two parties in the minority coalition are typically 
anti-whaling, they will require the parliamentary support of one of 
the traditionally pro-whaling parties.  Finally, the anti-whaling NGO 
Iceland Nature Conservancy Association (INCA) theorized to us that 
the quota was Gudfinnsson's parting shot at the International Whaling 
Commission for excluding Iceland in the recent discussions with Japan 
on small coastal whaling. 
 
5. (SBU) While the tourism industry and the whale watching society 
have denounced the decision, the sole fin whale captain and the Minke 
Whaling Society immediately praised the decision and claimed it would 
provide up to 300 jobs.  INCA believes that with the sudden rise in 
unemployment (from less than 2 percent to 7.6 percent in just a few 
months) the possible job creation aspect could make it harder to 
argue that whaling will hurt Iceland's interests.  However, since the 
Icelandic domestic market uses only minke whale meat, the fin whale 
meat would have to be exported to Japan or an entirely new market. 
The ministry's announcement on the regulation says "uncertainty (over 
the marketability of fin whale products) has been abolished."  After 
two years of effort and rumors that the fin whale captain was funding 
the export out of his own pocket, the Icelanders were able to export 
to Japan some fin whale meat from the seven whales caught in 2006. 
However, whether the market can profitably absorb the tons of meat 
the hunt will generate remains to be seen. 
 
6. (C) INCA Director Arni Finsson told Econoff that urgent 
international action was needed.  Finsson was concerned that with the 
sudden rise in unemployment, the 300 temporary jobs created will 
entice the public to accept the decision.  Ambassador contacted her 
colleagues and heard from her British and Swedish counterparts that 
 
they agree to deliver a joint letter and demarche to the new interim 
Prime Minister as early as possible. 
 
7. (C) Comment and Action Request: We need to deliver a swift and 
forceful message to the interim government that whaling outside of 
the International Whaling Commission guidelines is unacceptable and 
the scale suggested, especially of endangered species, is 
unwarranted.  Our central argument should be that at a time when 
Iceland is struggling to repair its tattered image and international 
credibility, a massive expansion of whaling activity is hardly a 
helpful move.  Post would like instructions from Washington to see 
incoming Prime Minister soonest, with the text of a joint letter from 
the anti-whaling community. 
 
van Voorst