Slow minke hunt shows Norwegians losing tastef or whales

NORWEGIAN whalers harpooned only half their quota of 1,052 minke whales in 2006, prompting hunt opponents to say that Norwegian demand for eating the meat has fallen.

"A total of 523 whales have been caught," said Per Rol-andsen of the fishing association in Svolvaer, north Norway. "A few smaller whales may still be landed but we can say the season's over."

Rough seas and high fuel costs had discouraged whalers, he said yesterday.

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Oslo, which resumed commercial minke hunts in 1993 despite an international moratorium, angered many nations this year by raising its quota to 1,052 - the highest in two decades.

Opponents of the hunt said the 2006 shortfall indicated Norwegians were losing their taste for whale meat despite internet-based campaigns with recipes including whale wok, whale burgers or whale pasta.

"People don't want to eat whale meat any more and its role as a nationalistic food is fading," said Truls Gulowsen, a spokesman for Greenpeace environmental group.

Norway's parliament has long-term plans to raise minke catches back to historical levels - around 1,800 a year. It says stocks are plentiful at about 107,000 in the north Atlantic.

The High North Alliance, which represents the interests of whalers, said a main reason for the 2006 shortfall was that hunters did not catch a single whale of a quota of 443 around the North Atlantic island of Jan Mayen, halfway to Greenland.

"It takes a long time to go there, the weather is risky and fuel prices are high," said Laila Jusnes of the alliance.

The whalers got off to a bad start because of rough weather in April. Whale meat is leanest and most popular at the start of the season.