Whaling Links to the Seafood Industry

Whaling and fishing have been linked for centuries, often sharing common ports, vessels and processing infrastructure. These ties have continued into the current century, despite the 1982 International Whaling Commission (IWC) decision to impose a moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales. Iceland, Norway and Japan continue to hunt whales, and more than 31,000 whales have been killed by those countries since the moratorium took effect in 1986.

In both Norway and Iceland, there are fishing vessels that—in addition to having quotas for species such as herring, cod, monkfish, and shrimp among others—concurrently hold quotas for whales. Further, there are companies in those same countries that engage in the processing of whale meat as well as seafood products, in the very same facilities. For example, the minke whaling company Hrafnreyðar ehf, based in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, holds a permit to “process, cut and pack whale meat and to pack and freeze fish” at its facilities.1

In light of these long-term associations between the two industries, it should come as no surprise that among the exhibitors at the 2013 European Seafood Exposition and Seafood Processing Europe Convention, there are several companies linked to whaling.

For example, Norway’s Hopen Fisk AS, is actively engaged in the processing and sales of whale meat.2 Another Norwegian company, Lofotprodukt AS, a Seafood Prix d’Elite finalist at the show for its Lofoten Grov Fiskeburger (fish burger),3 also sells whale meat via its website, and has been involved in the development of whale meat products such as Vestfjordskinka, a whale-meat “ham.”4

Others seafood companies, such as Iceland’s HB Grandi and Norway´s Athena Seafoods are tied by shareholdings to whaling companies. Athena Seafoods describes itself as “one of the main shareholders in Hopen Fisk.”5

In HB Grandi’s case, the company’s newly elected chairman, Kristjan Loftsson,6 is the managing director of, and a key shareholder in, the Hvalur hf whaling company, which targets endangered fin whales and has exported more than 2,800 metric tons of whale meat to Japan since 2008. HB Grandi facilities were also used to process much of the whale meat that has been exported to Japan.7

It is not only the seafood sales sector that is linked to whaling. The Hampiðjan Group, one of the largest fishing gear and ropes manufacturers in the world, is also attending the Brussels show and is associated with Iceland’s whaling industry as well. Kristjan Loftsson is a member of the company’s board of directors, and the Hampiðjan 2012 annual report outlines its ties to HB Grandi and Hvalur as follows:

In August 1988, Hampiðjan along with other companies bought the Reykjavikurborgar shares in what was then known as Grandi hf, which was 78% of the share capital issued by the company. Since that time, three of these companies, Hampiðjan, Hvalur hf and Fiskveidihltufelagid Venus ehf have been the backbone of the company’s owners. Hampiðjan, Fiskveidihlutfelagid Venus hf and Vogun, a subsidiary company of Hvalur hf, had at the end of 2012 a total of 53, 2% of the shares in HB Grandi. Hampiðjan has had involvement in the planning of HB Grandi, and in its key decisions.8

Industry responses to concerns about whaling

Many leading retailers in the UK and US have already highlighted their opposition to whaling, reassuring consumers that they do not buy fish from companies linked to whaling in Iceland. Following queries by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Campaign Whale, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), and other groups, supermarkets and fish suppliers in the UK verified that they do not buy fish from companies linked to whaling.

UK supermarkets Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, and The Co-operative all sent statements recognizing the public’s concern with whaling. Extracts from the letters received by the groups read:

Waitrose does not and has never condoned whaling under any circumstances; and we ensure that none of our suppliers are involved in whaling in any way.

Tesco does not support whaling and our policy is very clear – we will not source products from fisheries that are engaged in, or profit from, this activity.

…no fish supplied to Sainsbury's, directly or indirectly, is sourced from any company undertaking commercial whaling.

None of our suppliers are involved in commercial whaling and we would not trade with them if they were. Animal welfare is of paramount importance to Marks and Spencer and we stipulate that all our suppliers operate to the highest standards. 

Some of the supermarkets took an even more proactive stand against whaling. Waitrose and Marks & Spencer protested to the Icelandic government over its decision in January 2009 to resume commercial whaling, including a hunt for endangered fin whales. Both companies wrote to the Icelandic government to urge it to reconsider the decision and to inform the government that the companies do not trade with businesses linked to the commercial killing of whales.9 Also, after further outreach by WDC, Findus Group, the multi-national food business based in the UK, made the following statement:

We make every effort to ensure that our commercial activities do not directly support businesses which carry out or profit from commercial whaling activities. We believe this is what our customers would wish for and expect of us, and is in line with our “Fish For Life” approach to responsible fish procurement.10

In the US, Whole Foods Market wrote to the Icelandic government to express its displeasure, and urged the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture to reconsider its support for commercial slaughter of whales.11  According to A.C. Gallo, Whole Foods president and chief operating officer, all of Whole Foods Market’s Icelandic seafood vendors are also being asked to provide a written affidavit stating that they or their company are not involved in whaling.12


1. http://www.heilbrigdiseftirlit.is/Innihald_heimasida/Fundargerdir/2011/ 211111_fundargerd_nr_166.htm

3. http://www.euroseafood.com/news/70-prix-delite-finalists

4. http://www.lofotprodukt.no/VisProdukt/Produkt/20  http://www.harstadklubben.org/Invitasjoner/Nordprofilprisen%202011%20med%20Lundeklubben%20giro.pdf and http://www.dagligvarehandelen.no/xp/pub/hoved/avisen/tidligere_utg/13539

5. http://www.athenaseafoods.no/about.html  and  http://www.proff.no/roller/hopen-fisk-as/kabelv%C3%A5g/fisk-og-skalldyr/Z0HY0XVS/

10. Further information on WDC’s campaign can be found here: http://www.wdcs.org/stop/killing_trade/iceland.php

11. letter from Margaret Wittenberg to the Whales Need US Coalition, 9 June 2011

12. letter from A.C. Gallo to Cathy Liss, President of AWI. March 19, 2012

13. Hampiðjan hf. Ársreikningur samstæðu 2011and 2012
http://mvgenius2.mentis.is/CompanyOverview/Shareholders.aspx?Symbol=HAMP Hampidjan hf. Samandreginn árshlutareikningur samstæðu 30. júní 2010
Tilkynning útgefanda verðbréfa um fruminnherja. Hampidjan. skil nr. 6349. 25 November 2010. FME: The Financial Supervisory Authority of Iceland

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