The fisheries policy spokesman for Norway’s Progress Party, which holds political control of the state fisheries ministry, is calling for more whale- and seal hunting. Bengt Rune Strifeldt claims that Norway must harvest “the entire food chain in the seas,” even though a new survey shows a major decline in consumption of whale meat.
“Strong international powers have worked against the seal- and whale hunts,” Strifeldt told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) just weeks after Norway’s whaling season ended with the lowest catch in more than 20 years. Norwegian whaling boats shot 429 minke whales, just over a third of the national quota of 1,278 that’s allowed.
“It was a really bad year,” Truls Soløy, leader of the national whaling association Norges Småkvalfangerlag, told NRK. “We are very dissatisfied with it.” The catch was down from 454 whales in 2018, which had marked a slight increase over the 436 hunted in 2017.
Soløy conceded that demand for whale meat is low, bringing down the price to a level that prompts whalers to turn to other catches where they can earn more money. Soløy can’t understand why more people don’t buy and eat whale meat, claiming that it’s “among the healthiest meats to be found.”
The lack of interest in eating whales is likely tied to the bloody nature of the hunt and concern for animal welfare, with studies indicating that the whales suffer before finally dying from a harpoon. A survey conducted this summer by research firm Opinion AS for a coalition of whale conservation and animal welfare organizations confirmed “little domestic appetite” for whale meat, while there’s little international demand either.
Whale was once a staple in many Norwegian households and is still viewed as a delicacy at some high-end sushi restaurants. Only 4 percent of Norwegians polled in the recent survey, however, said they now eat whale meat often. Around 60 percent said they didn’t eat whale at all, or hadn’t for a long time.
Whale meat remains available in grocery stores and markets in Northern Norway, but is rarely found in Southern Norway. None of the young adults polled in the survey responded that they ate whale often, while 75 percent said they never ate it. Soløy admitted that most Norwegian whaling boat owners have stopped whaling or cut their season short because it was difficult to sell the meat even while fresh.
Not giving up yet
Anti-whaling organizations like Greenpeace hope the whaling industry will soon die out, but neither Soløy nor Strifeldt are giving up. “One solution is more marketing, there isn’t any for whale,” Soløy said. That’s likely a result of the international controversy that also has surrounded Norwegian whaling, since Norway defied the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on all commercial whaling and resumed the hunt in the early 1990s. Norway argues that the minke whale population is not under threat and should continue under regulated conditions.
Strifeldt of the Progress Party told newspaper Fiskeribladet that he thinks Norway’s seal and whale hunts should both be maintained and promoted. “We have had traditional hunts of both whales and seals,” Strifeldt told NRK as well last week. “As long as they’re sustainable, we should gladly continue the tradition.” Opponents claim the seal hunt, which has died out, has been even more cruel than the whale hunt.
Strifeldt claims there are markets for whale meat, “we just have to make sure we can export it to them. We also have a marginal domestic market that we could build up.” Streifeldt thinks it’s sad that the whaling industry has “fallen down” in his words: “I fear the industry will disappear. This is good food and we must drum up business around the product.” He thinks a new debate over whaling will be welcomed in Norway, if he manages to drum it up as well.