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Protest by other means

Activists turn to consumers to help end Faroese whaling

As Faroese officials make it more difficult to protest the country’s whale hunt, conservation group Sea Shepherd is increasingly turning to economic pressure to do the job
Knee deep in controversy (Photo: Jørn Møller)

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Ever since the 1980s, when it began protesting whale hunting in the Faroe Islands, Sea Shepherd, a maritime conservancy, has been a visible presence in the country each summer.

This year, faced with increasingly strict controls on activists entering the country and laws aimed at preventing the group’s ships from disrupting whalers, Sea Shepherd is instead seeking to use economic pressure to force an end to the hunt.

Most visible is the group’s targeting of the tourism industry. Last year, Sea Shepherd successfully encouraged two cruise-ship operators to cancel their stops in the Faroe Islands, after revealing that ships were required to inform Faroese authorities if they saw pods of whales in Faroese waters.

SEE RELATED: Out of our backyard

Faroese officials later clarified that even though the law applied to all ships, tourism vessels were “highly unlikely” to be subject to the 25,000 kroner ($3,750) fine for not reporting a whale sighting. This year, the law was changed entirely, so that it cannot be applied to tourist vessels.

Encouraged by the success last year, however, Sea Shepherd has asked a further 11 cruise lines to steer clear of the Faroe Islands from now on. So far, most have no plans to change their itineraries, but activists have begun calling on individual tourists not to sail on cruises that stop in the Faroe Islands.

Such efforts, even if they do not succeed, may score public-relations points for Sea Shepherd, but economists doubt it will have much economic impact, given the marginal contributions cruise ships make to the economy. Potentially more harmful, if much less visible than the cruise-ship campaign, are efforts by the organisation to get consumers and businesses to boycott Faroese fish: fish, especially farmed salmon, is big business in the Faroe Islands, making up 95% of the economy.

SEE RELATED: “We can’t live without each other”

In addition to making a public appeal to consumers to boycott Faroese fish, Sea Shepherd has also played a yuck-card, suggesting that food given to farmed salmon is partly made of whale carcasses from the hunt. The organisation is said to have contacted but not heard from the country’s three largest fish firms about the claims.

Merchants have come under pressure too. One firm contacted by Sea Shepherd, the American big-box store Costco, recently said that, despite its supplier not being involved in the hunt, it would not renew the company’s contract. Costco avoided linking the decision with the hunt, noting that it had already made a decision to start purchasing salmon from a Norwegian supplier, and that doing so was a “better value” for the company.

Despite its bloody nature, the grindadráp whale hunt, argue Faroese whalers, is humane. The point out that the pilot whales driven ashore in the hunt are killed almost instantly. In addition, they say the hunt is a sustainable use of the country’s resources, and the meat gets shared among the community.

Opponents admit that killing methods have improved, but fear that some animals do not due as quickly as claimed. They also worry that the animals suffer as they are being driven ashore.

SEE RELATED: Missions: irreconcilable

Sea Shepherd's move towards economic measures to pressure the Faroe Islands to stop its whale hunt comes at the same time as it has also begun questioning whether the country has the legal right to conduct whaling.

Sea Shepherd argues that, as a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands are subject to an EU-wide ban on whaling. Danish and Faroese officials reply that this is not the case, noting that only Denmark is an EU member. As proof that EU rules do not apply in the Faroe Islands, they point to a 2013 row between Brussels and Tórshavn over fishing quotas. The disagreement ended in an EU ban (that included Denmark) on Faroese fish imports.

More proof, they say, is that the Faroe Islands was not required to take part in EU-organised sanctions against Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea. Sea Shepherd ought to take note of how this has turned out before seeking to tighten the economic screws further: Moscow, despite the sanctions, still holds Crimea, and Faroese salmon sales to Russia are booming.