Norway sets 2003 whaling quota of 711
Many environmentalists and foreign nations denounce the hunts, which ignore a moratorium by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Norway says catches are a way of harvesting renewable marine resources.
"The basic quota is unchanged from last year," Kirsti Henriksen, deputy director general at the Fisheries Ministry, told Reuters. The 711 quota includes 40 whales that Norway's fishermen failed to harpoon from a quota of 671 set for 2002.
A whaling lobby group said on Tuesday that whalers had caught 634 whales this season, just above the official figure of 631. The catches were the highest since Norway resumed commercial hunts in 1993.
Henriksen said the quotas were low enough to avoid depleting stocks of minke whales, a relatively common species compared to the other types like the giant blue whale, in the North Atlantic.
Norway's whalers usually fail to reach permitted quotas - they say that rough seas make it hard to spot the black and white minke whales as they surface for air.
Norway has raised quotas most years since it resumed commercial hunts a decade ago, but the numbers are well below the 2,000 level that Norway used to catch each year until the 1980s.
The quota for 2003, however, will be below 753 in 1999 when whalers caught just 583 animals. Norway and Japan are the world's main whaling nations.
Meat from the minke whales is consumed as steaks. A kg (2.2 lb) of the meat costs about 130 Norwegian crowns ($17.57) in a supermarket.