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Oceans: Iceland faces sanctions over whaling

Whale is on the menu in some Iceland restaurants. bberwyn photo.

Whale is on the menu in some Iceland restaurants. bberwyn photo.

U.S. officials say whaling trade violates international conservation treaty

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Iceland may face trade sanctions after U.S. officials formally declared that the island nation’s whaling is undermining an international ban on commercial trade in whale products.

The declaration by U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell may have been spurred in part by Iceland’s December announcement that commercial whaling will continue for the next five years. As many as 154 endangered fin whales and 229 minke whales could be killed each year under Iceland’s self-allocated quotas which are set to run from 2014 to 2018.

Iceland killed 35 minke whales and 134 fin whales, massive animals second only to blue whales in size, during the 2013 whaling season. Whaling has deep cultural and economic roots in Iceland, and the fishing industry is by far the largest sector of the country’s economy, but wildlife and animal rights advocacy groups say it’s time for Iceland to rethink its whaling activities.

“Killing endangered fin whales is not only brutal, it’s short-sighted. Iceland should not be allowed to ignore the fact that, regardless of some temporary financial reward, this practice is simply unsustainable and cruel,” said Taryn Kiekow Heimer, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The US must lead global action by imposing strong economic sanctions to end this senseless and illegal practice once and for all,” Heimer said.

Jewell’s declaration specifically said that Iceland’s whaling is undermining the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The declaration starts a 60-day period during which President Barack Obama must decide whether or not to impose economic measures, including trade sanctions, against Iceland under conservation legislation known as the “Pelly Amendment.”

In a December 2010 petition to the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior calling for action against Iceland, 19 conservation and animal welfare groups identified specific Icelandic companies as potential targets for trade sanctions, including major seafood industry players directly tied to Iceland’s whaling company, Hvalur.

Jewell’s declaration follows a finding in July 2011 by the US Department of Commerce that Iceland has undermined the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling by hunting whales in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Although Iceland put its fin whale hunt on hold in 2011 and 2012 following the Commerce Department certification, it has continued to kill minke whales and export thousands of metric tons of meat and blubber — including from endangered fin whales — to Japan.

The United States imposed trade sanctions under the Pelly Amendment against Taiwan in 1994 for illegal trade in rhino and tiger parts that diminished the effectiveness of CITES. Its threat to sanction Japan for its imports of hawksbill turtle shell is credited with stopping that trade in 1992.

The United States has also certified Japan, Norway and Russia for diminishing the effectiveness of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), the convention that established the International Whaling Commission.

So far, however, President Obama has stopped short of using the full range of actions available against Iceland, ordering only a diplomatic response as a result of the Commerce Department certification.

“We have waited nearly three years for the Department of the Interior to respond to our petition against Iceland,” said Susan Millward, executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute. “There isn’t time to wait 60 more days for President Obama to announce his response; 134 of these incredible fin whales suffered needlessly last year, and the United States must ensure that Iceland does not continue whale hunting as planned in 2014.”

After the International Whaling Commission set a moratorium on commercial whaling, Iceland left the group, but later rejoined, claiming a controversial exemption to the ban.

Iceland illegally exported 259 kilograms of whale meat to Latvia in 2010. In addition, it has exported more than 2,800 metric tons of whale meat, blubber and other products to Japan since 2008 under the two countries’ respective CITES reservations. It also exported 14.1 tons of whale meat to Norway in 2013, also under reservation, and 1.3 tons of whale meat to the Faroe Islands, a non-party to CITES.

So far, Iceland has ignored all diplomatic criticism. President Obama responded to the Commerce Secretary’s certification of Iceland’s whaling in 2011 by ordering a diplomatic response by cabinet secretaries that is described as “insufficient” by conservation and animal welfare groups.

The groups have called for trade sanctions against Icelandic companies linked to Iceland’s “Hvalur (meaning ‘whale’) Group,” including Hampiðjan, one of the largest fishing gear suppliers in the world, and HB Grandi, whose chairman is also the CEO of Hvalur. HB Grandi is Iceland’s largest fishing and seafood export company, controlling more than 10 percent of the country’s fishing quotas.

NGOs have persuaded several fish wholesalers and retailers in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States to agree not to source fish from HB Grandi, but want the Obama administration to formally embargo Hvalur Group products.

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