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EUR: Norway suspends whaling as demand met: whalers

24 Jun 2009 8:55 PM

OSLO, June 24 AFP - Norwegian whalers have suspended their hunt mid-season this year with less than half the quota of 885 whales killed because demand is saturated, a fisheries organisation said on Wednesday.

Environmentalists said the decision was proof of consumers' lack of interest for whale meat, though industry officials said it was due to capacity problems at processing plants on land.

Whales have been protected by a moratorium on whale-hunting since 1986, but Norway does not abide by the ban.

"The number of whales killed so far is enough to meet the known demand," Willy Godtliebsen, the head of sales at the Norwegian Fishermen's Sales Organisation, told AFP.

Norwegian whalers were asked to suspend the hunt on Tuesday, in the middle of the whaling season which runs from April to October. Some 350 Minke whales have been harpooned so far.

"They may resume the hunt later if new buyers turn up," Godtliebsen said.

Environmental group Greenpeace argued that consumers were shunning whale meat, as the 85-nation International Whaling Commission was discussing the controversial issue at a meeting this week in Portugal's Madeira island.

"If they don't start the hunt again later this season, 2009 will be the 'worst' year for whaling since Norway resumed commercial whaling" in 1993, Greenpeace spokesman Jo Kuper said.

But according to Lise Mangseth, marketing director at the Norwegian Fishermen's Sales Organisation, the reason for the suspension is that the financial crisis has dissuaded processing plants from freezing and stocking the meat the way they normally do, in order to save money.

"More generally, (the suspension is due to) organisational problems rather than a problem of demand," she said, adding that it was not unusual for whalers to take a break during the season.

"The whalers are such small actors and the volumes from the hunt are so limited that the distribution chains don't really want to invest in their product and there are no marketing campaigns as there are for other food products," Mangseth said.

Norway and Iceland openly defy the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling, while Japan uses a loophole that allows "lethal research" to kill the animals.