OSLO, Norway (AP) _ In a move likely to antagonize critics of Norway's whaling policies, the government has increased its quota for next year's hunting season to 671 minke whales from 580, a Cabinet minister said Saturday.

A number of countries have taken Norway to task for continuing its whale hunts in defiance of a ban on the practice. The Norwegian government insists that minke whales are not an endangered species, and that the limited hunting the government permits is safe for the stock.

Next year's quota includes the new quota of 621 plus 50 carried over from this year's limit, Minister of Fisheries Peter Angelsen told the Whalers' Association on Saturday.

During the 1997 season, Norwegian whalers killed 503 whales in the Arctic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea.

The International Whaling Commission, which has 39 member nations, banned commercial whaling 11 years ago out of concern for the mammals' dwindling numbers. As the populations have grown, so has pressure for the resumption of whale hunting.

Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 under a loophole in the ban and since has faced fierce protests.

Japan also hunts whales, under a scientific program that permits killing the animals for research purposes, and the commission regularly grants hunting quotas to indigenous groups.

Norwegian whalers Saturday were disappointed by the government's decision to retain its ban on exports of whale fat, according to the Norwegian news agency NTB. Whale fat sells for more than $500 a pound in Japan.