Months after the much-criticised slaughter of more than 1,400 white-sided dolphins in the Faroe Islands, a provisional annual hunt quota of 500 has been set by the Faroese government in what campaigners call a “farcical” decision.
The Faroese fisheries minister, Arni Skaale, said that the quota was meant to secure sustainability. “We have a right to hunt,” he told the Guardian, but added that there was an obligation to protect the country’s resources: “We have to utilize everything sustainably.”
The quota is expected to be implemented at the end of July, and the government says it represents a fraction of the 80,000 whales and dolphins estimated to be in the North Atlantic. It will be in effect until 2024.
Last year’s cull was unique in its size. Since 1996, an average of 270 white-sided dolphins a year have been killed in the Faroe Islands, including the 1,428 killed last year. In that period, there were only three other years where more than 500 dolphins were killed – 2001, 2002 and 2006.
“This announcement by the Faroese government is farcical,” said Sally Hamilton, director of the marine conservation charity Orca.
“What the Faroes have done is formalize something that was previously unformalised – sanctioning the slaughter when it was never previously clear how many dolphins would be killed annually – if any at all.”
She added: “The Faroes have become an abattoir for marine mammals, and the country seems unconcerned at the international outrage and condemnation this is causing.”
Skaale insisted that the quota of 500 was justified. “It will prevent a hunt like the one from last year,” he said.
Steve Jones, head of partnerships at Orca, said the announcement – which sets a quota for killing Atlantic white-sided dolphins and not the traditional “Grindadráp”, as the annual slaughter of pilot whales is known – was a “smoke-and-mirror operation”.
He said: “To establish a quota is formalizing a hunt that didn’t exist as a traditional hunt previously, and which surveys have shown that Faroe Islanders do not want. It is a worrying trend towards a hunt that is not sustainable. There is no market for white-sided dolphin meat.”
The huge slaughter last year caused an international outcry, but also revealed opposition locally. A poll published after the slaughter showed that while 83% of the islanders supported the killing of pilot whales, 53% were opposed to extending that to white-sided dolphins.
Companies came out against the killings, too. The islands’ biggest salmon-farming firm, Bakkafrost, issued a statement saying the slaughter was “totally unacceptable”. In February, the Faroese Aquaculture Association, a body representing fish farmers, called for a total ban on the killing of white-sided dolphins.
The Faroese government says it will review the quota in 2024, using updated information on dolphin populations from the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission which represents the four whale-hunting countries in the region – Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.