Norway whalers take first whales of hunting season

OSLO - Norwegian whale hunters have harpooned the first three whales of the year, nearly a month after the controversial hunting season began, the country's Fishermen's Sales Organisation said Wednesday.

"Three whales were taken off Bear Island on Sunday," Per Rolandsen, of the sales organisation's division in Norway's Arctic Lofoten archipelago, told AFP.

Norway's whale hunting season started on April 1 and is set to last until August 31, but Rolandsen explained that weather conditions had been poor and the vessels had been tied up until now with other fishing activities.

"The whale hunt is very weather dependent (but) we expect now that the hunting conditions will improve," he said.

Norway and Iceland are, with Japan, the only countries to defy the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling, claiming Minke whale stocks are large enough to merit limited hunts.

Japan uses a loophole that allows killing the animals for "lethal research," but a large portion of the meat also makes it to commercial markets.

Norway has set a quota of 1,286 Minke whales for this year's season - the same as last year - even though the country's dwindling whaling fleet is having trouble filling the quota.

Last year, only 19 boats took part in the hunt, taking just 533 animals.

"There is really no problem pulling up the quota," Rolandsen said, stressing that the problem was "to sell the meat."

"We hope that the sale will go better this year and that Norwegians will consume more whale meat," he said, acknowledging though that only 18 of the 20 boats signed up for this year's hunt were expected to participate.

Olav Lekve of Norway's Directorate of Fisheries meanwhile told AFP there were no plans to cut the whaling quota.

"The quota depends on (scientific) recommendations, and it is at a minimum already. The Minke population is quite big," he said.

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