OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's whale catches are set to fall to the lowest in more than a decade in 2009, a decline blamed by the industry on financial problems and by environmentalists on dwindling demand for the meat.
"The total number of whales ... caught so far is 481. We expect to catch 3-4 more," Svein Ove Haugland, deputy director of the Norwegian Fishermen's Sales Organization which handles the meat, told Reuters Wednesday.
A final catch of 485 minke whales in the summertime season that ends on August 31 would make 2009 the first year with a catch below 500 since 2000, when 487 were harpooned, and the lowest since 388 in 1996.
The haul of minke whales, which Oslo says are plentiful in the North Atlantic, is far below this year's quota of 885. Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 despite a ban by the International Whaling Commission.
Haugland said that financial problems for industrial processing plants, which led to a brief suspension of hunts in June, were a main cause of the fall.
"The bottleneck is the whaling industry and the distribution system. That is the main issue. Demand for whale meat is comparable to what we've had in recent years," Haugland said.
But environmental group Greenpeace said ever fewer Norwegians eat whale meat.
"The Norwegian market for whale meat is in decline, as elsewhere on the planet," said Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace. "The Norwegian government should phase out whaling."
In 2004, parliament voted to raise quotas "considerably" -- whalers took that to mean a return to an average of 1,800 whales caught in the 1960s-70s. Since 1993, however, the peak year for whale catches was 647 in 2003.
In a supermarket in central Oslo, there is no sign that a relative shortage of whale meat has driven up prices.
Frozen whale meat is on sale for 130 Norwegian crowns ($21.58) a kilo, comparable to prices for frozen salmon or cod and far cheaper than beef or reindeer.
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