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EDITOR’S NOTE - Norway has decided to ignore an internatio

April 11, 1993

EDITOR’S NOTE - Norway has decided to ignore an international ban and resume commercial whale hunting, angering environmentalists around the world. The whalers of the Lofoten Islands feel it is an honorable trade and they should be left alone to pursue it.

Undated (AP) _ By DOUG MELLGREN Associated Press Writer

MOSKENES ISLAND, Norway (AP) - Mariette Korsrud was reading to her son and was stunned to find that the story described whalers, like her husband, as ″worse than murderers.″

″People repeatedly call my husband a barbarian, my children barbarians,″ she said. ″This is not just about whale hunting. It’s about the right to make a living, without being hated.″

Jan Odin Olavsen left the hatches of his whaling ship unlocked as usual in the nearly crime-free Lofoten Islands. It was vandalized and nearly sunk by a group from faraway America.

Those are signs of the storm about to break over Norway, which has enraged many conservationists with its decision to resume commercial whaling in May despite an international ban imposed in 1986. Up to 800 minke whales could be killed by the end of summer.

Radical environmentalists threaten more sabotage. Some Norwegians fear the jobs saved in northern fishing towns will not be worth the protests, the tourism cancellations and a possible boycott of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.

Opponents argue that harpooning is cruel, whales should not be killed under any circumstances and Norway’s defiance of the ban could cause other countries to resume whaling.

The government insists nothing will stop either the start of the annual research hunt on Thursday or commercial whaling in May. It says the planned hunt of minke whales is environmentally sound and economically essential for some coastal villages.

Similar international pressure forced Norway to halt commercial whaling in 1987 after it tried to ignore a five-year ban ordered by the International Whaling Commission to permit studies of whale populations. After the commission extended the ban last year, Norway announced its intention to resume hunting.

″It is a matter of principle,″ said Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. ″We must be allowed to use our resources.″

The main weight of international disapproval has fallen on the people of these beautiful islands, which seem to burst from the frigid sea along Norway’s northern coast.

″We were caught off guard when the first attacks on whaling came from people who lived in cities and knew nothing about the hunt or our lives,″ said Geir Wulff-Nilsen, a former fisherman who is mayor of the arctic township.

Unemployment, once almost unknown in the islands, soared to about 20 percent after the whaling ban. The town is short of tax money and the population has fallen to 1,412 from 1,520, Wulff-Nilsen said.

Many fishermen sought other ways of getting by. Some built tourist apartments in boathouses. Others took tourists on whale-watching trips. But Wulff-Nilsen said tourism could not replace whaling in these small, remote islands because ″our capacity is limited.″

Not all of the islands’ woes were caused by the whaling ban, but it has aggravated the problems, he said.

″Who is it out there who has the right to take from us our right to live and survive on this harsh coast as we have for generations?″ the mayor asked.

The government is conducting an $800,000 campaign to convince outsiders that minke whales are a plentiful, renewable natural resource.

″Protecting the environment does not mean not touching anything,″ said Brundtland, who was chairwoman of the U.N. Commission on the Environment until 1987.

The International Whaling Commission estimates there are 86,700 minke whales in the northeast Atlantic and 760,000 in the Antarctic.

By comparison, there are about 2,500 fin whales and far fewer giant blue whales. Norway agrees those whales should be protected.

″It is difficult to understand why environmental groups fight to save a whale that is not threatened,″ said Jan Henry T. Olsen, the fisheries minister.

Whales emerged as an environmental symbol after they were nearly exterminated by huge factory ships that could stay at sea for long periods, processing the catch while searching out more whales.

″We don’t want to repeat the mistakes we made in the past,″ said Olsen, who noted that Norwegian whalers will work from family owned boats ranging from 30 to 70 feet long.

To a harpooned whale, opponents argue, the size of the boat is meaningless. ″Whaling is grotesque cruelty to animals,″ said Kare Elgmork, a zoology professor at the Univeristy of Oslo.

Brundtland’s government is expected to set a quota of 300 to 800 minkes, including the 136 allotted to the research hunt. The annual kill was about 1,800 in the early 1980s and 4,500 in the 1950s.

Profits from whaling will be ″very, very small″ for Norway, a country of 4.3 million that is Europe’s leading oil exporter, but the business will help depressed coastal areas, Olsen said.

The hunt could employ 40 to 50 boats and 800 to 1,000 people, including those on land, for a few months. The meat from a 7 1/2 -ton minke might sell for nearly $30,000 in Norway or Japan.

Commercial whale hunting is not a full-time job, even in a center like Moskenes with seven whaling boats. Whalers fish in the arctic off Norway and Russia the rest of the year to keep their boats busy,

″Survival depends on our ability to take care of our natural resources and use them properly ... to harvest all living resources in the sea,″ said Wulff-Nilsen, the mayor.

That includes minke whales, which are regarded here with no more sentimentality than cod.

″We are a few thousand people who live in a large area,″ said Olavsen, the captain who nearly lost his boat to vandals. ″If you pull out one of the bricks supporting us, the whole thing can collapse.″

Olavsen, 45, learned whaling from his father and hopes to teach his young son the trade. He said he had earned the equivalent of $14,000 a year from the hunt, and the ban had cut his income in half.

Also, environmental groups appear to have singled him out.

During a government research hunt last summer, the Greenpeace ship Solo pursued his 72-foot Nybraena into the arctic and tried to block its kills.

It was just before Christmas that Olavsen found his 33-year-old wooden craft sinking because of sabotage. The militant Sea Shepherd group, based in Los Angeles, said its members tried to scuttle the boat ″as a Christmas gift to the whales.″

″Without the ship, I would have lost everything,″ Olavsen said. The Nybraena has been repaired.

Some whalers now sleep on their boats.

Geir Andersen, mending nets in the snow on his wharf at Reine, was bracing himself for the trip into the arctic on the Lief Junior, a 36-year-old boat he owns with his father.

″Sometimes it’s so cold that you stand on deck for a couple hours and the skin starts to peel off your face,″ the 40-year-old hunter said. ″We don’t go up there for fun.″

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