Nineteen conservation and animal welfare groups, which are said to represent tens of millions of US citizens, called on the US Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to impose trade sanctions against Iceland for its commercial whaling on December 21.
Fin whale processing in Iceland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
A petition filed by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) on behalf of the ‘Whales Need US’ coalition and Species Survival Network, urged Secretaries Gary Locke and Ken Salazar to invoke US conservation legislation known as the Pelly Amendment against Iceland, a press release states.
In November, Locke sent a letter to Icelandic Minister of Fisheries Jón Bjarnason, criticizing Iceland’s whaling practices. In reaction to the letter, Bjarnason said he is prepared to exchange opinions with the American government on the matter.
The Pelly Amendment authorizes the president to impose trade sanctions against another country for “diminishing the effectiveness” of conservation agreements.
According to the anti-whaling campaigners, in Iceland’s case, that is the violation of the agreement with the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which bans commercial whaling, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits international commercial trade in whale products.
Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006, catching 148 fin whales and more than 80 minkes in the 2010 whaling season.
Iceland’s export of whale products has also increased; in 2010, Iceland exported more than 800 tons of whale meat, blubber and oil to Japan, Norway and the Faroe Islands and made illegal shipments of whale products to Latvia and Belarus, the anti-whalers claim.
They state that the Obama administration is taking a fresh look at Iceland’s renegade whaling and trade, indicating recently that it is “evaluating potential responses”.
“We applaud the US for recognizing that more must be done to stop this senseless killing,” said D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “This petition provides the government with the evidence it needs to act urgently and decisively to impose significantly stronger measures against Iceland and its whaling industry.”
The conservation and welfare groups have identified specific Icelandic companies as potential targets for trade sanctions; these include major seafood industry players that are directly tied to Iceland’s whaling industry.
“Iceland’s approach to whaling is guided by responsibility and sustainability. The fin whales caught in recent years are not an endangered species, contrary to what is repeatedly being implied. Annual catch figures of fin and minke whales are less than 1 percent of the estimated stock size,” stated Sigurdur Sveinn Sverrisson, information officer at the Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners (LÍÚ), in response to the anti-whaling actions.
“Both stocks are considered to be close to pre-exploitation levels and estimated sustainable annual catch levels are 200 and 400 fin and minke whales respectively. Catch quotas are in full compliance with scientific advice,” he added.
According to information from LÍÚ, at the time of the re-entry of Iceland into the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Iceland made a reservation with respect to the “so-called moratorium” on commercial whaling.
As a part of the reservation, Iceland committed itself not to authorize commercial whaling before 2006. Thereafter such whaling would not be authorized while progress was being made in negotiations regarding the IWC’s Revised Management Scheme (RMS), a management framework for sustainable whaling.
At the IWC’s (International Whaling Commission) Annual Meeting in 2005 Iceland warned that no progress was being made in the RMS discussions. No objection was raised at the Annual Meeting to Iceland’s statement.
At IWC Annual Meeting in 2006, Iceland’s understanding was reconfirmed as the IWC generally agreed that talks on an RMS had reached an impasse. Therefore, the two limitations attached to Iceland’s reservation with respect to the moratorium no longer apply.
Accordingly, Iceland’s reservation is now in effect and Iceland has the legal right to resume sustainable whaling. This puts Iceland in the same position as other IWC members that are not bound by the so-called moratorium, such as Norway.
Click here to read more about whaling in Iceland.