Iceland to let more than 2,000 whales be killed

Killings will be done within next 5 years

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(CNN) - Only two whaling companies remain in Iceland. It's a small industry that conservationists say is inhumane, has minimal economic benefits, and defies the international ban on killing whales.

But this week the Icelandic government announced it will allow up to 2,000 whales to be killed in the next five years.

A Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture statement released Tuesday said a maximum of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales can be killed each year between 2018 and 2025.

Iceland's Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson said the new whale quotas are sustainable and based on research from the nation's Marine Research Institute and the University of Iceland.

"Whaling in Icelandic waters is only directed at abundant whale stocks, North Atlantic common minke whales and fin whales, it is science-based, sustainable, strictly managed and in accordance with international law," a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

But activists and conservationists disagree. The Icelandic Environmental Association criticized the research on which the Fisheries Ministry based its quotas.

And Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), an organization aimed at protecting whales around the world, said whaling is no longer beneficial to Iceland's economy and lacks public support.

"This is a country that's embraced whale watching and has a different relationship with whales now," WDC spokesman Chris Butler-Stroud told CNN. "The reality is, the whale meat that's being consumed there is mostly by tourists, unfortunately. ... If it was down to local consumption, this probably would be dead in the water."

A report from the University of Iceland said whale watching contributed $13.4 million to the economy, while the whale hunting company Hval hf. Contributed $8.4 million. According to the report, more people are employed in whale watching than in whaling, but wages are higher in whale hunting.

That report also concluded that "Icelanders have managed whaling in a responsible manner."

But the WCD argues that instead of relying upon its own science, Iceland needs to listen to worldwide calls to stop whaling.

The International Whaling Commission placed a ban on commercial whaling in 1986. But Iceland controversially continues to hunt whales with its own quotas, despite being a member of the IWC. And last year, Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf drew worldwide condemnation after reportedly killing a blue whale, which is illegal under international law.

Japan also has been criticized for using a loophole that allows killing whales for scientific purposes to get around International Whaling Commission ban.

According to the International Whaling Commission website, "It is well known that overexploitation by the whaling industry led to serious declines in many of the world's populations of whales. ... Many are now in the process of recovering, although not all."

Whale and Dolphin Conservation also maintains that whale hunting is inhumane. Butler-Stroud added that whales remain alive for "considerable time" after being harpooned.

"It's a horrendous way to kill an animal," Butler-Stroud said. "You have to have a good justification to kill an animal in this way, not just feeding tourists and exporting to the Japanese market. I really don't see that justifying Iceland to go off and kill whales at this time."

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