My Sunday steak used to be a mink whale when I was growing up in the NW of Iceland. Until whaling was banned in 1986. Whaling started again in 2006 despite protests from the tourism industry in Iceland. They were afraid that the negative publicity would seriously damaged tourism in Iceland. Today the minister of fisheries in Iceland announced that he has issued a permit for whaling in Iceland for the next 5 years.
The Internation Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, protested immediately saying that they had been helping Icelanders build a profitable tourist industry around whale watching over the last years, work that now is being jeopardized.
As you may have heard, the Icelandic economy collapsed in October and so did the government last Monday. So Iceland has been on the news a lot lately, and it's not all been good. Actually, it's mostly been negative news. Still, we got some positive statistics from the travel industry today:
- Number of foreign tourists in October and November were up 30% from 2007.
- Number of foreign tourists in December was up 43% from 2007.
- Tax refund to foreign tourists was up 400% in December.
The message tourists got was that since the currency had collapsed, Iceland had suddenly become a cheap destination. Something Iceland has never been before. Even beer is fairly priced now. If you're a foreigner.
How to turn negative publicity into a positive thing
When Iceland took up whaling again in 2006 the government didn't do anything to grab the attention Iceland was getting and turn into something positive. Most likely, they won't do that this time either. That's bad PR. Last time, there were protests and demonstration and boycotts of Icelandic products. It didn't last long though.
When you've been on the news for months because of economic crisis, inflation and skyrocketing unemployment, it will be difficult to get people to try to prevent Icelanders to use all their traditional methods for survival. It didn't chance any policies in Iceland last time and most definitely won't do it this time either.
When you manage to grab the attention of the media, even though it's because of negative publicity, you have to make the most of it to get your message through. So what Iceland should be doing now is making sure that the message people that care about whales will remember after a year, is that Iceland is the country where you have loads of all different kinds of whales, a country where the chances of seeing a whale on a whale watching trip is actually well over 97%.
A few facts that should be out there:
- We are not talking about any endangered species
- Iceland was the first nation to ban whaling in 1915 to protect the whales.
- Iceland fought Britain four times last century to get control of fish stocks within 200 miles from Iceland to be able to protect them from over-fishing.
- Iceland has been a leading nation in sustainable fisheries and protection.
- Iceland has always been dependent on nature to survive. If we don't use our resources, we don't survive. If we don't do it sustainably, we don't survive.
- The sea around Iceland is crowded with whales.
- Whale watchers and whale hunters are not on the same areas, so you will not witness whale killing while whale watching.
You can read more on Wikipedia about the history of whaling in Iceland.