13.02.2009: A WHALE OF A CABLE - WHALING IN NORWAY



UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 OSLO 000111

SIPDIS

COPENHAGEN FOR EST/OFF

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: SENV, TBIO, NO

SUBJECT: A WHALE OF A CABLE - WHALING IN NORWAY

1. (U) SUMMARY. After resuming commercial whaling of

minke whales in 1993, Norway endured a few years of tough

international criticism from NGOs and non-whaling countries.

In recent years, however, the activity has largely fallen

under the radar, surpassed by the attention now paid to

Japan´s "scientific hunt." Today Norwegian whaling struggles

not with protestors and activists, but rather with demand for

the product and questions of the industry´s viability. Yet

despite a small market and low profits for the meat, the

government of Norway has not shown any willingness to let go

of whaling. END SUMMARY.

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TRENDS IN THE INDUSTRY TODAY

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2. (U) With whale meat filling only a niche market

domestically, most objective observers today would assess the

demand for whale meat in Norway as marginal at best. In

season the meat can be found in gourmet fish shops around the

country, but otherwise it is resigned to the frozen foods

section. The vast majority of whale meat is consumed in the

three northernmost counties (the fishing/whaling communities)

and even here the market is saturated. Although demand has

not grown much, if at all, in last decade, nor has it

decreased. Some NGOs (Greenpeace in particular) push the

belief that the opposite is the case. Many anti-whaling

activists highlight the low percentage of the quota caught

each season (no higher than 56% for the last three years) as

evidence demand is dropping, but in reality the number of

animals caught has stayed roughly the same for the last

decade--only the quota has increased.

3. (U) The industry is struggling with several issues

beyond its control, most of which are related to weak demand

for the meat. For one, because profits can be low and the

work is unreliable, new, young whalers have proven difficult

to recruit, leaving just the older generation to cling to

whaling as a worthwhile activity. As a result, the

industry´s average age is among the highest of any

profession. This gives anti-whaling activists some cause for

optimism that the activity may literally just die out on its

own. Given the small demand for whale meat, it can also be

prohibitively expensive to actually bring to market, meaning

a small profit margin for all those connected to the supply

chain. Grocers have asked the industry to modernize its

packaging and advertising, much of which is dated and

unappealing to new consumers. However, considering the high

price of product development and marketing support, coupled

with the low profits associated with whale meat in general,

this has yet to occur. Exacerbating the industry´s problem,

the outdated packaging and marketing serve only to reinforce

many Norwegian´s preconceptions of whale meat as "poor man´s

food" with bad taste and a throwback to another time. Thus,

many store owners are left to question the wisdom of devoting

shelf space to a product with such a limited market and

little draw for new buyers.

4. (U) In a 2006 report the Norwegian Fishery and

Aquaculture Industry Research Fund assessed how to increase

profitability in the whale meat market. The report found

that the amount of whale meat eaten in Norway is roughly

equal to one meal per citizen per year, meaning it could

potentially be glamorized as a special food eaten for

holidays, thus allowing sellers to charge more for it. But

again, this image change would cost money that the industry

does not have. Complicating matters, the report also found

that most Norwegians already consider whale meat overpriced

relative to its taste and quality. To overcome these issues,

the group recommended several potential solutions, including

a supply-chain-wide effort to improve all aspects of the

product, increased competence and knowledge, better labeling,

and a longer whaling season to extend the period of time that

fresh meat could be found in stores.

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THE OVERSEAS MARKET

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5. (U) Exporting to Japan has gained much attention in the

media and among anti-whaling activists, but it is thought

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that even this route will not yield the kind of profits that

would expand hunting by any substantial amount. Still, the

ability to export to Japan was one of the fishermen´s biggest

agenda items for several years, and in 2001 their request was

granted. However, for the first few years Japan refused all

meat due to the presence of heavy metals and other toxins.

In 2008, after an effort to harvest younger, less polluted

animals, Japan accepted a modest shipment of 5.5 tons. The

meat sat in warehouses for months before it was finally

accepted for sale in the Japanese market. Japan continues to

abstain from importing Norwegian blubber, however, which it

still deems too heavily polluted. The relatively small

amount of meat shipped means there was likely little profit

from the exchange, although the costs have not been disclosed.

6. (U) The long-term possibilities for Japanese export are

in question. At the annual meeting for the Norwegian Whale

Hunting Association in December 2008, State Secretary of the

Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Vidar Ulriksen

welcomed the Norwegian and Icelandic whale meat entrance into

the Japanese market, but warned against exaggerating its

significance. He stressed that the home market is the most

important and that there is greater demand in Norway than

Japan for Norwegian whale meat. Also of concern to Ulriksen

was the possibility that the quality of the meat could suffer

due to exports, which could potentially weaken what little

anchor the product has in the market at home. Clearly,

Norway does not want to depend on exporting to Japan for the

long-term profitability of its whaling industry, and with

good reason. There is some indication that Japanese whalers

would not want the competition that would come from any

substantial imports from Norway and/or Iceland. Japanese

prices are also seen as very variable. For example, in

January Japanese whale meat prices were cut by half in an

attempt to increase consumption.

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PRESSURE FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AND NORWAY´S DEFENSE

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7. (U) Domestic pressure on the whaling industry is all but

unheard of, although Nordkyn AS, one of the largest firms

producing frozen whale meat, claims to have come across

significant domestic resistance to the meat related to

whaling´s negative attention in the international media. If

true, it is surprising given the unanimous support whaling

enjoys in parliament. International opposition is less

visible since the 1990´s, and of the three countries whaling

today Norway likely receives the least attention. With Japan

catching the most animals of the three and operating in

Antarctic whale sanctuaries and Iceland hunting endangered

fin whales, Norway´s modest catch of the abundant minke whale

has largely gone unnoticed. There is also no question as to

the legality of Norwegian whaling; the country lodged a

formal reservation to the International Whaling Commission

(IWC) and as such is not bound by its moratorium on

commercial hunting of the animals. Nevertheless, Norway does

attract attention from NGOs, mostly Greenpeace and animal

rights groups.

8. (U) Today the primary criticism against Norwegian

whaling is the undue suffering caused to the animals, which

many scientists consider to be among the most intelligent

creatures on earth. Some 20% of whales fail to die within

the first minute of being harpooned, with some taking more

than an hour. NGOs hope to stir a public debate on this to

eventually spark a push to eliminate whaling altogether.

9. (U) Norway´s approach to answering criticism is to

preserve the status quo. It currently attracts relatively

little negative press and avoids getting wrapped up in heated

debate and international attention. They use science, facts,

and figures to support their case for hunting.

10. (U) Responding to arguments about pain caused to the

whales, Norway´s position is that it always strives to

increase efficiency and reduce suffering, but also argues

that its method of killing (penthrite grenade harpoons) is

far more humane than other hunts around the world. Karsten

Kleppsvik, current Commissioner to the IWC and Ambassador to

the Arctic Council, said "Countries like the USA and

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Australia try to lecture us on killing methods! Look at

their hunt with a bow and arrow and the hunt of camels

(referring to aboriginal hunts in the two countries,

respectively). The fact that they will teach us on animal

welfare is hypocritical."

11. (U) Norway´s broader goal is to convince others that

their whaling activity is actually responsible. The minke

whales they hunt are unprotected and numerous, especially in

Norwegian waters. More importantly, their quota numbers are

a result of a careful analysis of population estimates and

the hunt plays a part in the country´s broader system of

resource management (i.e. if X number of fish are removed

from the ecosystem as a result of human activity, then Y

number of whales must be removed also).

12. (U) Norway attempts to argue that its whaling is part

of the country´s tradition, although this depends on one´s

understanding of the word "tradition." Norway only engaged

in large scale whaling since World War II when the

inexpensive meat was needed for food. Earlier, Norway´s

whaling industry was like that of most other countries, with

the animals taken mostly for their oil. The indigenous Sami

people have also engaged in some small scale whaling

throughout the centuries as a supplement to their primary

food of reindeer.

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THE FUTURE OF WHALING IN NORWAY

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13. (U) A new government white paper is due soon, perhaps

before the next IWC meeting in June. This will outline the

government´s thinking on whaling and sealing with respect to

Norway´s broader ecosystem management. The report will

affect future seasonal quotas and it would be an opportunity

for any substantive policy changes.

14. (U) 2009 is the beginning of a new five-year quota

cycle, based on population estimates carried out from

2003-2007. The limit this season, which will take place from

1 April to 31 August, is 885 animals (down from 1052 last

year, of which only 532 were taken). This includes 750

animals from the coastal waters surrounding Norway and the

Svalbard islands, and 135 animals from Jan Mayen waters.

Much has been made of the substantially lower quota for 2009

compared to the previous three years--that it is evidence the

government has acknowledged a shrinking demand for whale

meat--but it is important to remember that the quota is based

on sustainability and population estimates, not market

demand. If the full quota is not taken this year (which is

likely), the remainder carries over to next year.

15. (U) The upcoming IWC meeting will be an opportunity for

Norway to perhaps push for the elimination of zonal limits,

albeit an unlikely request to be granted. Fishermen feel

zonal restrictions limit their ability to take a greater

portion of the quota. Of particular annoyance to the

fishermen is the Jan Mayen zone´s roughly 150 animal quota,

which is regularly barely dented because the whaling vessels

are limited by the island´s distance and the trip´s fuel

costs. Only one ship even made the journey in 2008.

16. (U) Norway also frequently threatens to leave the IWC

altogether and work exclusively with the North Atlantic

Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO), a similar organization

comprised of Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe

Islands. In the past this has been seen as somewhat of an

empty threat, but is given some credence today given the

IWC´s perceived irrelevance and budget problems.

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COMMENT

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17. (U) In a conversation with Tanya Schumacher of Animal

Protection Norway, it was apparent that the group feels

whaling is likely on its way out. Noting the whale meat

market´s stagnation, low profits, the difficulty in

recruiting new whalers, and the constant struggles on the

marketing and product development side of the industry,

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Schumacher was not worried that whaling would continue on a

large scale for many more years. She was even rather

indifferent about the prospects of exporting the meat, citing

Japan´s desire to protect its own whaling industry and the

poor cost-benefit ratio of shipping the meat. The

organization has found it effective to quietly monitor what

appears to be a slowly dying industry, rather than protest

and "stir things up", which might risk making things worse.

Negative attention in the form of demonstrations and heated

rhetoric may only push the country inward and turn whaling

into an issue of national pride. The lack of attention paid

to Norwegian whaling may in fact be a good thing, allowing

for a natural, market-induced decline of the industry. END

COMMENT.

WHITNEY



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