This past week, WDC joined forces with the Animal Welfare Institute and attended the Seafood Expo North America in Boston, MA. While some attendees were there to sample the rich diversity of foods, others were there to broker $120million (USD) deals with seafood distributors to supply restaurants and food stores across the country. And still others, like WDC and AWI, were there to remind these corporate giants that they must act responsibly in their business practices.
The show was not what I expected- very high end distributors, not the fishermen I am used to working with- none of whom could afford to have a booth at this show. Our mission was to remind dealers and shippers that whales are not seafood and the easiest way to ensure they were not supporting whaling, was not to buy from the whalers.
The biggest issue at hand is seafood purchased from HB Grandi, an Icelandic fish supplier whose parent company, the Hvalur Group, commercially hunts whales while violating the treaty of the Convention of the International Whaling Commission. Since 1986, Hvalur has slaughtered at least 414 endangered finback whales and further violated trade agreements by shipping almost 3,000 tons of fin whale meat to Japan since 2008 alone. To add insult to injury, these endangered whales are not feeding people, rather some of the meat has ended up as luxury dog treats.
Our mission at the Seafood Expo was to have face time with the companies that do business with HB Grandi and ask them to stop supporting a company that processes whale meat at the same facility they process their fish. Our conversation with Gylfi Sigfússon, the President and CEO of Eimskip (the shipping company that moved the whale meat to Canada for Hvalur) was enlightening. While he pointed out his belief that Icelandic law prevents him from denying cargo to a paying customer, he did say that he was interested in learning more about what his company could do to protect whales from ship strikes. Like most shipping companies, Eimskip is investigating new routes that may open in the Arctic as glaciers melt and passageways open but he also had a sense of concern about climate change and talked about the failure of puffin nests in Iceland and changes in their distribution.
Our meeting with the Icelandic fishing companies was also revealing. While no representative from HB Grandi was on site while we were there, a number of other fish company and government representatives were present. We didn’t initially receive a warm reception and one representative asked why we won’t eat whale meat as it is so delicious when it is grilled and brazed. I quickly asked him if he knew what monorhygma was and then, in some detail, described the genital parasite often found in whales that lives in a pustule-filled sac, or had he ever seen the size of a crassicauda worm, a favorite intestinal parasite of fin whales. The conversation then changed to them asking us why the US, a huge country, was “picking on” Iceland, a country of just over 300,000 (about the size of Lexington, Kentucky). I pointed out the small stature of my AWI companion noting that as she was small and therefore needed a small country as a sparring partner. This seemed to break the ice for an important conversation about whaling. The overall sentiment was that these companies have no interest in whaling commercially and it really does come down to Hvalur and HB Grandi as the prime target to end this senseless slaughter. They were honest that, for Iceland, whaling is not about economics, if it were, then no one would whale – but there is a national pride at stake and they are not comfortable with another country telling them how to use their resources. My companion was quick to point out that whales are not simply an Icelandic resource but are migratory and they quickly pointed out that the climate is not just a US resource and that US fracking is impacting their climate. We agreed that the climate was a valid point of concern for all of us.
Our conversation with High Liner Foods, North America’s largest marketer of prepared frozen seafood products , was not to ask for anything, but rather to thank them for being responsible. Having previously reached out to them, High Liner foods responded, in a letter, that they were “ not supportive of any commercial whaling or trade in whale products” and had met Icelandic ministers during the Expo to explain that their customers do not support whaling and neither did they.
But at the end of the day, the biggest lesson I learned is that we didn’t meet with corporations, we met with people. Some of whom we pre-judged as corporate giants and pro-whaling fanatics. Some of whom judged us as whale-huggers and spoiled American elitists. Neither, of course, is true. The end to whaling will not likely come down to a battle of organization and corporate logos, but the voice and will of the people that care. We can make a difference and we are grateful to have the supporters we do, that provide the backing to let our voices be heard by the people behind the corporations.