Icelandic Whaling’s Ground Zero

Yesterday I traveled to the West Fjords, a remote region in Iceland’s northwest and an area that a friend recently referred to as the ‘beating heart of whaling.’   The West Fjord region is the home turf of Iceland’s Fisheries Minister; a guy that is hugely supportive of commercial whaling, yet never seems to explain why.  I’d sure like to ask, just give me one significant reason why a handful of people whaling would rejuvenate the economy of the entire Western Fjords. The rationale seems to be that killing whales will provide income and jobs for this remote region.  The truth is killing whales won’t bring the jobs and prosperity that an economy based on non-consumption of natural resources.  Just look at towns like Gloucester, Massachusetts and Eastport, Maine for recent examples. These towns and many others like them once thrived from the rich fisheries of the North Atlantic.  Today many of these places are a mere shell of their former selves, Eastport was one of few places in New England that actually had a negative population growth measured in the 2000 census. Each of these towns are victims of poor fisheries management based on short-term economic gain rather than long-term responsible solutions.

Rather than learn from the poor ocean policy of other Atlantic nations, Iceland is repeating the very same fishery management mistakes that lead to the demise of countless towns like Eastport.  Thankfully, Eastport is rebounding thanks to a booming ecotourism industry, and the West Fjord’s economy can easily bounce back similarly.  All that needs to be done is to let fisheries rebound, and to look for other long-term sources of income. Rather than address overfishing and an ineffective quota system, the fisheries minister avoids the challenge and instead decides take the easy way out by shifting the fisheries debate to whales.   The man says that Iceland needs to hunt whales to once again have a thriving economy. Replace whales with Tuna, Cod, Grouper, or Shrimp and we very well could be arguing on behalf of any struggling fishing community on the U.S. Atlantic Coast.  They caught those fish, then the swimming gold gradually disappeared. Now the economy of many coastal communities is in the toilet.  Killing a few Minke whales for a market that has no demand has got to be one of the worst business moves someone can make and will exacerbate the problem the Western Fjords face.

Fast-forward to why I find myself here today, to show residents of the west fjords that you can make money off the ocean through responsible ecotourism rather than irresponsible ravenous consumption of oceanic resources.  Our workshop went quite well and already my mind daydreams about what could be accomplished with just a few more days and a few more dollars.  The next step is to prove to the people here that there are whales here and you can be successful watching them.   To do that someone needs to pick up where last months feasibility study left off and survey the presence of whales in the fjords. If I had the time, it would be fantastic to establish a research trip based on the Earthwatch framework of citizen science.  Give me 6 weeks in the summer with 20 volunteers, some binoculars, a couple vhf tags, and two good boats and we’ll prove whales are here.  Then businesses based on watching whale and not hunting can really flourish. 

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