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Viewing cable 09REYKJAVIK36, ICELANDIC FISHERIES MINISTER PESSIMISTIC ON REVERSING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09REYKJAVIK36 2009-02-18 15:03 2011-01-13 05:05 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Reykjavik
VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRK #0036/01 0491540
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 181540Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3987
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0037
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0018
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0059
UNCLAS REYKJAVIK 000036 
 
STATE FOR OES/OA MAGGIE HAYS AND LISA PHELPS AND EUR/NB 
USDOC FOR NMFS CHERI MCCARTY 
TOKYO FOR BART COBBS 
COPENHAGEN FOR ESTH HUB 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SENV EFIS KSCA PREL IWC ETRD PGOV IC
SUBJECT: ICELANDIC FISHERIES MINISTER PESSIMISTIC ON REVERSING 
PREDECESSOR'S WHALE HUNT QUOTAS FOR 2009 
 
REF:  REYKJAVIK 25 
 
1. (SBU) Summary:  At the head of a delegation of seven ambassadors, 
the Ambassador urged the new Minister of Fisheries February 7 to 
rescind the quota established by his predecessor last month that 
would allow a large commercial hunt for fin and minke whales over 
the next five years.  The Minister, who will make a decision this 
week, described the constraints that limited a complete revocation 
of the quota, but implied he was exploring options to limit or 
restrict the hunt in future years. The new Minister of Foreign 
Affairs later assured the ambassador that he does not endorse the 
quota decision.  End summary. 
 
2.  (SBU) Accompanied by ambassadors from the U.K., Sweden, Finland, 
Germany, France, and The Netherlands, the Ambassador presented 
Minister of Finance, Fisheries, and Agriculture Steingrimur J. 
Sigfusson a joint letter (text below) protesting the decision by 
outgoing Fisheries Minister Einar K. Gudfinsson on January 27 to 
issue a quota allowing a harvest of 150 fin whales and 100 minke 
whales this year and for each of the subsequent four years. 
Speaking for the delegation, the Ambassador thanked Sigfusson for 
his willingness to review the decision and urged him to rescind it. 
Pointing out that the seven countries signing the demarche 
represented almost half of all tourists to Iceland last year 
(tourism is a pillar of the Icelandic economy, particularly since 
the economic crash last fall), she stressed the growth of the whale 
watching sector in Iceland and the negative impact of whaling on 
Iceland's international image.  She questioned assertions by the 
pro-whaling sectors that the hunt would employ significant numbers 
and that export of the meat would be profitable.  She further 
deplored the decision for undermining efforts in the IWC to find a 
solution to the polarization of that organization. 
 
3.  (SBU) Sigfusson made it clear that he personally opposed the 
decision by his predecessor, resented that the new government had 
been saddled with such a controversial issue, but expected the legal 
review now underway would certify that Gudfinsson had acted within 
his mandate.  Sigfusson believed that revocation might not be 
constitutionally possible, though this option was being explored by 
Ministry experts.  He noted that he was in a "tricky situation" in 
that a majority of the 63-member parliament had already put forward 
a bill to validate the Gudfinsson quota.  Sigfusson observed that 
cabinet ministers in Iceland are answerable to parliament, and said 
he faced the threat that parliament could and most likely would 
depose him from office were he to attempt to rescind the quota. 
 
 
4.  (SBU) Sigfusson agreed that the question of the economic 
viability of the harvest is important to the government and is still 
unresolved; whether an international market exists for the whale 
meat, and whether the claims by the whaling lobby that the hunt 
would produce 300 jobs for Icelanders, are question that remain to 
be determined.  He appreciated the ambassador's point about the 
importance of tourism from anti-whaling countries to the stricken 
local economy, but said that the support of the Icelandic people for 
whaling was so deep-seated it constituted a "clash of cultures" with 
the outside world. 
 
5.  (SBU) Sigfusson said he had "limited possibility to reverse the 
decision in terms of quota or time scale," hinting that he would not 
be able to do much to change the decision for this year.  The 
whalers were preparing for the hunt despite warnings issued by the 
Fisheries Minister not to move ahead until the issue was settled. 
However, Sigfusson said that "the longer future is easier to deal 
with," implying he is exploring a two-phase solution in which he 
could make changes in the season length, the quota, and perhaps the 
species for the second through fifth years. 
 
6.  (SBU) Ambassador also raised the issue February 18 with new 
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ossur Skarphedinsson, who is 
concurrently the Minister of Tourism.  Skarphedinsson said flatly 
that he was against whaling (and in fact came from a family 
well-known for its anti-whaling views).  He noted, without details, 
that he understood that Sigfusson is working on a bill to present to 
parliament that would give the Fisheries Minister authority to alter 
some parts of the quota decision.  Skarphedinsson mentioned that 
restricting whaling to defined areas of Iceland's waters might be 
one of the actions Sigfusson could take for this coming season. 
 
7.  (U) Text of joint letter to Minister of Finance, Fisheries, and 
Agriculture, dated February 12, 2009 and signed by ambassadors of 
 
U.S., U.K., Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, and The Netherlands: 
 
We are writing you today to express our governments' extreme 
disappointment in the decision of your predecessor to issue a quota 
for 150 fin and 100 minke whales to be harvested in Icelandic 
waters.  We applaud your interest in re-evaluating this decision. 
We deeply regretted Iceland's decision to resume commercial harvest 
of fin and minke whales in 2006, and each of our governments 
objected to Iceland's reservation to the commercial whaling 
moratorium adopted pursuant to the International Convention for the 
Regulation of Whaling. 
 
Our governments are concerned that the issuance of a quota at this 
time will undermine the "Future of the IWC" efforts, in which 
Iceland has been a participant.  It is critical that the 
continuation or expansion of Iceland's commercial harvest or 
international trade in whale meat does not undermine goodwill or 
hamper progress in resolving issues pending before the Commission. 
We call on Iceland to reconsider this decision and focus on the 
advancement of the Commission, and the long-term rather than 
short-term interests of the whaling industry. 
 
End text. 
 
van Voorst