Norway whalers spear season’s first catch

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 on 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 1st and is set to last until August 31st, 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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Plastic-free effort at royal residence failed: Crown Princess

Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit has said that she failed in an experiment to cut out the use of plastic at the royal residence at Skaugum near Oslo.

Plastic-free effort at royal residence failed: Crown Princess
Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB scanpix

The Crown Princess says that she and other members of the royal family remain concerned over plastics pollution, reports broadcaster NRK.

“I made an effort to make Skaugum plastic free last year, and it didn’t go so well. I think it was incredibly difficult. It was an experiment to see how normal consumers can avoid using plastics,” Crown Princess Mette-Marit told NRK.

Known for her interest in the environment, the Crown Princess and other royals have previously been involved in initiatives to removed litter from beaches in Norway.

“The experiment inspired me to think about when plastic is a necessary product, and when it actually is not. We are in no way perfect, but I think that it is important to try and reduce the use of plastic in any case,” she said.

Plastic packaging with food and electronics products was the most difficult to avoid, according to the princess.

In interviews recorded by NRK with senior members of Norway’s royal family, King Harald described as a “wake-up call” the sight near Bergen earlier this year of a whale that had become ill after ingesting plastic.

After being forced to put down the whale, researchers found 30 plastic bags and large amounts of microplastics in the animal’s stomach.

Environmental organisation Grid has estimated that around 350 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually worldwide, with drastic increases forecast in the coming years.

15 tonnes are estimated to be dumped into the sea every minute, writes NRK.

Marine biologist Per-Erik Schulze of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (Naturvernforbundet) told the broadcaster that the issue was critical.

“Every single minute an amount equivalent to several waste disposal trucks full of plastic goes into the sea. We can observe that it is building up and is not broken down. That cannot continue,” Schulze said.

“Several researchers say that plastic is a type of environmental pollutant. An environmental pollutant is defined as something that is persistent and difficult to break down. It is then ingested by organisms and causes harm in various ways,” he continued. 

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