Conservationists are up in arms over a UK government decision to sign a new deal with the Faroe Islands following a record mass dolphin slaughter.
Ministers have been accused of being “an absolute disgrace” and of “flying in the face of public opinion” after announcing the £5.5m agreement allowing UK and Faroe vessels to fish areas of each other’s waters.
It comes after there was a worldwide uproar in September when Faroese hunters caused a bloodbath with the killing of 1,428 dolphins in one go, and dozens of pilot whales just days later.
Since then, calls for the government to suspend its 2019 trade agreement with the islands until whale and dolphin hunts end have gathered pace, with 73,000 people signing a petition, and supermarkets being urged to stop selling seafood from the Faroes.
UK animal welfare minister Zac Goldsmith wrote to the Faroese and Danish governments condemning the massacre.
But fisheries minister Victoria Prentis said on Tuesday she was “pleased to announce” the deal that allows the UK to fish 1,000 tonnes of cod and haddock, worth £2.2m, as well as other species.
Fish consumption has risen in the UK as people have stopped eating meat in recent months and years.
Responses from the public on social media overwhelmingly condemned the deal when Ms Prentis announced it, some asking whether it was a joke, and others accusing the government of turning a blind eye to mass torture for money.
Wildlife-protection lobbyist Dominic Dyer, who launched the petition on the government website calling for a suspension of trade, said he was very angry about the agreement, which showed how “out of touch” ministers were with public views in the UK and Europe.
“It’s really badly timed. They’re giving the islanders more access to enriching the economy at a time when international opinion is definitely turning against these horrible hunts,” he told The Independent.
“We need to restrict tourism to the islands and trade – we need to hurt them in their pockets and make Denmark feel the pinch so that if they lose more trade, the Danes have to pick up the bill.”
The Sea Shepherd and Born Free conservation organizations are carrying out polling in Germany Denmark and Britain on the hunts – called “the grind”, which Mr Dyer was confident would show widespread opposition.
The campaigners are aiming to take a delegation of leaders, politicians, naturalists and broadcasters to the islands in the spring to draw the attention of the Faroese government and Danish governments to the “cruelty that has no justification”.
Mr Dyer, who said the government argued this deal was a separate strand from another post-Brexit trade, said pressure must also be put on retailers over where they source fish. If the petition reaches 100,000 names, it will be considered for debate by MPs.
Another said: “Did you by any chance bring up the subject of how they hack dolphins and whales to death in front of their terrified and struggling families? Thought not. Not one moral fiber between the lot of you!”
A third told her: “Worldwide condemnation yet you choose to reward them. Shameful.”
The government says the Faroe Islands are in no doubt as to the UK position on cetacean hunts, which it raises “at every relevant opportunity”.
Immediately after September’s bloodbath, Sea Shepherd said it believed the slaughter had been the largest single hunt in Faroese history, and was possibly the largest single hunt of cetaceans ever recorded worldwide. It said footage showed dolphins suffered prolonged suffering before being killed.
The Blue Planet Society said the EU Commission could not “sit back and let the Faroe Islands devastate Europe’s protected dolphin and small whale populations”.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK is strongly opposed to the hunting of any cetaceans and continues to call on all whaling nations, including the Faroe Islands, at every relevant opportunity to cease their whaling activities in favor of well-managed, responsible tourism, such as whale-watching.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.