Faroe Islands begins review of controversial dolphin hunt

The Faroe Islands, a Danish autonomous territory, says it has begun discussions about the future of its controversial dolphin hunt, with a decision expected in the coming weeks.

A pilot whale hunt in Torshavn, Faroe Islands
A pilot whale hunt in Torshavn, Faroe Islands, in 2019. The Faroe Islands, a Danish autonomous territory, said on February 15th, 2022 it had begun discussions about the future of its controversial dolphin hunt. File photo: Andrija Ilic/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

A petition with almost 1.3 million signatures calling for a ban on the traditional hunt was submitted to the Faroese government on Monday, the prime minister’s office and whale conservation groups told AFP.

At a meeting on Tuesday in Torshavn, the government discussed the conclusions of a re-evaluation that Prime Minister Bardur a Steig Nielsen had ordered in September, after the unusually large slaughter of more than 1,400 Atlantic white-sided dolphins sparked an outcry.

“It was a first meeting. No decisions were taken,” an official in the prime minister’s office told AFP.

He added that a final decision was expected “in a few weeks”, and “several options” were on the table.

In the Faroese tradition known as “grindadrap”, or “grind” for short, hunters surround dolphins or pilot whales with a wide semi-circle of fishing boats and drive them into a shallow bay where they are beached.

Fishermen on shore slaughter them with knives.

Every summer, images of the bloody hunt make headlines around the world and spark outrage among animal rights defenders who consider the practice barbaric.

But the hunt still enjoys broad support in the Faroes, where supporters point out that the animals have fed the local population for centuries.

Normally, around 600 pilot whales are hunted every year in this way.

But the dolphin hunt on September 12th, 2021 in the Skala fjord was much bigger, triggering an international outcry and pushing the government to reconsider the practice.

Only the dolphin hunt is currently being reviewed, not the entire “grind” tradition.

In the petition, handed over by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation organisation, signatories called for the end of the “cruel” practice.

READ ALSO: Why mass dolphin slaughter could catalyse change to Faroe Islands tradition

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Faroe Islands renew fishing quota deal with Russia

Denmark's autonomous Faroe Islands have renewed a fishing quota deal with Russia for one year despite Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, a local minister said on Saturday.

Faroe Islands renew fishing quota deal with Russia

“The Faroe Islands are totally right to extend their existing fishing agreement with Russia,” the North Atlantic archipelago’s minister of fisheries Arni Skaale told the Jyllands-Posten daily.

He added however that the islands, which are not part of the European Union, condemned “all form of war – also the war in Ukraine” after Russian forces invaded in February.

The agreement has been in place since 1977 and is renewable each year.

It lays out catch quotas for cod, haddock, whiting and herring in the Barents Sea north of Russia for Faroese fishermen, and in waters off the coast of the Faroe Islands for Russian fishing boats.

Dependent on fishing

The autonomous territory is highly dependent on fishing for its income, and the fisheries ministry says the deal with Russia covers 5 percent of its GDP.

Russia has become a key commercial partner of the Faroe Islands since they and neighbouring Iceland fell out with the European Union – including Denmark – between 2010 and 2014 over mackerel and herring quotas.

An EU embargo on Faroese fish harmed the economy of the territory, which then turned to other markets.

“Today we only have free trade agreements with six countries – and not with the European Union,” said Skaale.

“If we cut ourselves off from one of these markets, it could be problematic for the whole of the next generation.”

Alternatives to be considered

Authorities on the archipelago have however said they would think about alternatives to the deal with Russia after local parliamentary polls on December 8.

Last month, neighbouring Norway – a NATO member – and Russia also agreed on catch quotas in the Barents Sea for next year.

Home to some 54,000 inhabitants, the Faroe Islands have been largely autonomous from Denmark since 1948.