Only one vessel took part in this year’s seal hunt in the area known as Vestisen, between Iceland and Greenland. Its Norwegian skipper thinks the seal hunt, controversial in many places outside Norway, is dying out.
“Maybe the Norwegian seal hunt is already history,” skipper Bjørne Kvernmo told newspaper Aftenposten. He’s from the city of Alta in northern Norway, and has taken part in the seal hunt for 37 years.
“It was strange to have all of Vestisen to ourselves,” said Kvernmo. On his first seal hunt in 1973, around 40 Norwegian boats took part. A few decades before that, 70 to 80 boats set out every year.
People in Tromsø, one older resident recalled, would line up to buy the seal meat. “It’s a delicacy,” 76-year-old Bjarne M Hansen told Aftenposten. “I have to have seal meat every spring.”
But now the market for both seal and whale meat has declined markedly. Demand for seal oil is up, but Kvernmo is uncertain whether he’ll set off next year. “The trend is going only one way,” he said. “Norwegian hunting traditions can be nearing an end. What we’ll need, is investment in new boats that can combine sealing with fishing.”
Norway had a quota of 30,000 seals this year. Kvernmo came back to Norway with 4,000, meaning 26,000 weren’t captured. “Our catch hardly makes a mark on the seal population,” he said. “There’s an enormous amount of seals in all the traditional fields.”
They eat fish, and Norwegians defend the seal hunt. Photos of hunters bludgeoning baby seals, however, have made the hunt controversial and the EU has banned import of seal products. Animal rights activists also have campaigned to halt the hunt.
Kvernmo’s boat had an inspector on board, a Swedish veterinarian “who took my hand when he traveled home and said he had no negative commentary.”
The Norwegian Parliament has agreed the seal hunt can continue, but hunters complain it’s poorly organized and that they get little support.