A WHALE OF A CABLE - WHALING IN NORWAY

Identifier: 
09OSLO111

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
--------------------------------------------- -----------------

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