By Gunnlaugur Arnason
Reykjavik - A hundred tons of whale meat is sitting unsold in Icelandic freezers three months after Reykjavik sparked global ire by resuming commercial hunts, a top whaler said on Wednesday.
Kristjan Loftsson, manager of whaling firm Hvalur, said the delay was because firms must first test the meat for dangerous chemicals to see if it meets food industry standards.
"We have not sold any meat. First we must analyse the meat. When that's done, then there will be no problems," he said.
Loftsson and Iceland's Fisheries Minister Einar Gudfinnsson said they were confident that whaling firms would ultimately find buyers - particularly in Japan.
Gudfinnsson told Reuters the delay in sales did not change the decision to allow the hunts.
"The arguments, supporting sustainable whaling, have not changed and the decision was made in accordance with Icelandic and international laws," he said.
"The future of whaling will of course depend on the sale of the meat. But whaling is a private industry and whaling companies take the financial risk, not the government."
Loftsson expects a decision on when Hvalur will start marketing the meat abroad by the end of January, but said the analysis of the meat has taken longer than expected.
He did not specify how much of the 100 tons was Hvalur's.
"We must prepare and carry out testing carefully. We have never done this before and we have to do an extremely good job," Loftsson said.
Gudfinnsson said there were no laws or regulations in Japan, where Icelandic whaling firms plan to sell most of their catch, to prevent the import of whale meat.
"If there is no demand for a product, then it will no longer be produced. But I believe that (the whaling firms) will be able to sell the meat, but it is their responsibility," he added.
Iceland in October bucked a 1986 ban by the International Whaling Commission by permitting the catch of nine endangered fin whales and 30 minke whales.
The step prompted an outcry capped culminating in a formal protest by 25 nations including the United States and Britain.
Last week, Iceland's Baugur Group, which owns major retailers in Britain and the Nordic region, came out against whaling, saying it feared the hunts could prompt consumer boycotts of Iceland's companies abroad.
Baugur cited threats by many groups to stop doing business with foreign companies owned by Icelanders as well as damage to the tourism industry.
However, according to the latest statistics, Iceland's tourism industry stayed strong into the end of 2006.
Keflavik Airport saw an 11 percent rise in passenger traffic in 2006, while stays in Icelandic hotels were up by 11 percent in the first 11 months of 2006.