U.S. to Iceland: "Stop Defying Global Ban Against Commercial Whaling...or Else"

U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke made a strong statement today by declaring Iceland in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) global ban on commercial whaling. So what does this formal certification mean exactly?  Well – it’s a strong stance for the United States to take and, thanks to conservation legislation known as the “Pelly Amendment,” it could eventually lead to sanctions.  But that remains to be seen. 

The United States has issued around a dozen certifications to countries involved in taking whales over the past 25 years.  Yet it has not imposed trade sanctions.  President Obama now has 60 days to decide whether to impose sanctions against Iceland, and we strongly urge him to do so.

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For years, the United States and other IWC members have been trying to stop Iceland from raiding our seas of whales - many of which are endangered. But instead Iceland has ramped up its renegade whaling.  Iceland has killed 280 endangered fin whales (the world’s second largest animal) and over 200 minke whales since it resumed commercial whaling in 2006. In the last two years alone, it has exported millions of dollars worth of whale meat, blubber and oil to Japan, as well as additional shipments to Belarus, the Faroe Islands, Latvia and Norway.  

Then in 2009, Iceland dramatically increased its self allocated fin whale quota to 150 animals a year – more than three times the catch limit that the IWC’s Scientific Committee (the world’s foremost experts on whales) considers sustainable for the species’ survival.  The fact is that Icelandic whaling activities not only flout international law, but are also depleting whale populations at an alarming rate.

In December 2010, as Iceland’s self-allocated whaling quotas and exports reached record levels, NRDC and eighteen other NGOs had had enough and took action.  Representing tens of millions of U.S. citizens, we filed a petition under the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act urging the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to certify and enact trade sanctions against Iceland – specifically against fisheries-related businesses linked to its whaling industry. 

Today, Secretary Locke responded by certifying Iceland under the Pelly Amendment.  In a letter to President Obama, he said that that “Iceland, by permitting its nationals to engage in commercial whaling and exporting endangered fin whale meat, is diminishing the effectiveness of the IWC conservation program.”  Within 60 days, we’re hoping the President will impose sanctions.

A range of possible sanctions is available to the President, including trade sanctions targeting fish imports by Icelandic companies tied to whaling.  Also on the table are diplomatic sanctions, including authorizing the State Department to tie our cooperation in Arctic projects to the Icelandic Government changing its whaling policy and abiding by the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling. 

While imposing sanctions on Iceland for its renegade whaling would be a first for the United States, it’s clear this stronger stance needs to be taken.  Negotiating has failed time and again.  Iceland is not going to stop this abhorrent practice unless they’re compelled to do so. 

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And, frankly, the whales they’re killing aren’t theirs to kill.  Whale conservation has been a global effort for decades and we cannot let one rogue country take us off track and decimate these fragile populations. 

Now is the moment for President Obama to show the world that the United States remains strong a leader on protecting our oceans and ocean life.  He should seize it. 

Photo credits: NOAA, James Cotton and Ann Zoidis

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land and Wildlife Program

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