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Greenpeace hurting Iceland canners most, but frozen whitefish producers also hit.

Greenpeace Hurting Iceland Canners Most, But Frozen Whitefish Producers Also Hit

Iceland continues to hang tough in the wake of an anti-whaling campaign waged by Greenpeace and allied environmental factions that has cost exporters an estimated US$40 million in sales. Boycotts of their seafood products have been acutely effective in West Germany, with consumer resistance also being felt in the United States.

But as far as the North Atlantic island nation (which derives more than 78% of its export earnings from marine products trade) is concerned, outsiders should keep out of its affairs. "We cannot accept that people from other countries have the right to decide for us which creatures in the seas off Iceland are holy cows and which are not," stated Halldor Asgrimsson, fisheries minister.

Iceland's centuries-old tradition of whaling has come under sharp fire by animal rights groups worried that the great mammalian species is endangered. International political pressure has already succeeded in forcing Reykjavik officials to drastically reduce permitted catches to levels for "research purposes" only prescribed by the International Whaling Commission. Just 67 were reported to have landed last year. But, Greenpeace claims, harvesters are using the pretense of "research" as a screen to continue an estimated $20 million annual whale meat business with Japan.

Paying High Price

While passions over Icelandic sovereignty run deep, a high price is being exacted that can be accounted for in real terms. Particularly hardhit has been the canned fish industry, which has been unable to find alternative buyers for its products unlike sister companies engaged in-the frozen and fresh sectors. West Germany's Aldi North supermarket chain, for example, in February decided to cancel all orders of canned seafood from Iceland until the government announces that it will ban this summer's scheduled research whaling program. The retailer's contract was worth about $8 million last year.

Iceland Waters is the country's largest canner of seafood. Its managing director, Theodor S. Halldorsson, vented his frustration to the press: "It used to be a major selling point to have Iceland in the name of our products. Now it helps to single us out to pressurize Iceland because of a policy that our company doesn't even support."

Layoffs Reported

The boycott is beginning to cause some economic dislocation. At least 30 employees -- representing 10% of the 30-person work force--have been laid off by a number of plants. But relief may be coming from Japan, the only other country in the world that admits to organized whaling.

According to a recent report in News From Iceland, Japanese government fisheries negotiator Kazuo Shima has suggested that he might be able to find markets in Asia for canned products that would normally have been sold in West Germany.

Meanwhile, the Greenpeace organization has geared up its Iceland-bashing campaign in the United States. The environmentalists claim success in getting major bulk buyers of frozen Atlantic whitefish to stop procuring supplies from Iceland. Leading the list of companies thus far persuaded to change their purchasing plans are said to be Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes, Shoney's and Wendy's. The Burger King fast food chain will reportedly cut back on its use of Icelandic cod by 20%. In addition, some 80 school districts throughout the country have pledged to stop menuing the species until Iceland stops whaling.

Greenpeace -- which was very much in evidence demonstrating outside the exhibition hall of the Boston Seafood Show in March--is making the claim that Iceland has reduced fish catches by 22% due to the impact of its anti-whaling activities. Not true, according to official forecasts from Reykjavik, which reveal that landings will be down by that percentage this year only because of quota restrictions imposed to offset over-fishing of certain species.
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Title Annotation:QFFI's Global Seafood Magazine
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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