U.S. censures Iceland for its whaling -- again

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President Obama took additional steps today to sanction Iceland for its whaling and trade in whale products, but he should have gone further.  “I believe that continuing focus on Icelandic whaling activities is needed to encourage Iceland to halt commercial whaling and support international conservation efforts,” wrote the President. “Just as the United States made the transition from a commercial whaling nation to a whale watching nation, we must enhance our engagement with Iceland to facilitate this change."

The President then directed federal agencies to take actions to encourage Iceland to end commercial whaling, including raising official objections, encouraging Iceland to increase its nonlethal use of whales (i.e., whale watching), and monitoring the activities of Icelandic companies that engage in commercial whaling and trade in whale parts. Click here to read the full list of available sanctions.

Unfortunately, President Obama failed to impose more effective measures through targeted trade sanctions. NRDC and other animal welfare and conservation groups have been calling on the Obama Administration to impose targeted economic sanctions since 2010 and have identified several Icelandic companies as potential targets – including major seafood industry players that are directly tied to Iceland’s whaling industry.

Iceland killed 35 minke whales and 134 endangered fin whales in 2013 alone. Fin whales – the world’s second largest animal and listed as an endangered species – are hunted predominately for export to the Japanese market, and a massive shipment of 2,000 tons of whale products left Iceland for Japan just last month.

In today’s message to Congress, the President acknowledged that “Iceland's actions jeopardize the survival of the fin whale.”

But by imposing diplomatic sanctions – again – the President isn’t doing enough to protect fin whales from Iceland’s harpoons.  As his message to Congress points out, the United States has already certified Iceland for its whaling activities several times: in 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2014. Despite these certifications and the imposition of diplomatic sanctions, Iceland ramped up its whaling in 2006 and again in 2013.  It even announced last December that it would allow commercial whaling to continue for at least the next five years – authorizing up to 770 endangered fin whales to be killed.

Diplomatic measures have clearly failed.

That’s why we will continue to push for private action against specific Icelandic companies that are tied to the whaling industry.

After yesterday’s win for the whales at the International Court of Justice, the President had the opportunity to ride the wave of whale conservation and impose targeted sanctions that could have actually deterred Iceland’s fin whaling.  It’s disappointing to see that the President instead chose to hide behind the same tired diplomatic sanctions that have failed in the past. 

We will continue the fight to protect whales from Icelandic harpoons. Because the whales are counting on us.

Photo credit: NOAA