The U.S. Department of Commerce has formally declared the nation of Iceland to be in violation of the IWC global commercial whaling ban, and, in a first, the Obama administration may impose economic sanctions against the whaling nation.
[updated] On July 20, 2011, U.S. Dept. of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke formally declared the nation of Iceland to be in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s global ban on commercial whaling. The declaration was met with over-whelming approval by numerous NGOs and conservation groups the world over.
Iceland’s action, it is asserted, undermines the IWC’s effectiveness in its mission to protect and conserve dwindling and endangered whale populations by hunting whales — especially endangered fin whales — above and beyond its allotted quota. As a result of the commerce secretary’s declaration, President Obama now has 60 days to decide whether to impose economic penalties and/or trade sanctions against Iceland. Such sanctions are authorized under legislation known as the ‘Pelly Amendment’.
“It’s clear Iceland won’t stop whaling until the world demands it through strong economic pressure. The U.S. must impose serious sanctions.” — Taryn Kiekow of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The U.S. had previously deemed Iceland and other whaling nations (primarily Norway and Japan) to be illegally conducting whaling operations in defiance of the IWC ban. However, if Obama was to take action, this would be the first time trade sanctions would be imposed on another nation for this reason, setting a conservation precedent that nearly every conservation society would heartily welcome.
Controversially, under current IWC rules, three nations (Japan, Iceland, Norway) are “allowed” a yearly quota of whale captures (though, non-endangered ones), as, historically, these nations have been heavily invested — commercially and culturally — in whaling. However, said quotas are supposed to decrease each year (as the goal is to phase out the industry) according to a specific, agreed upon system. The system, however, has many loopholes.*
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in 2009, Iceland significantly increased its whaling quota to 150 fin whales per year. This number represents more than 3 times the the catch limit that would be allowed under IWC guidelines if there were no moratorium in place at all.
The NRDC further asserts that as of late 2010, Iceland’s quotas and exports of whale products reach “record levels.” As a result, 19 U.S.-based NGO’s filed a “Pelly petition” asking the Secretary to certify Iceland’s violation of the whaling ban (pursuant to the Pelly Amendment) and to urge the imposition of trade sanctions. The petition specifically advocated targeting Iceland’s “fisheries-related businesses linked to its whaling industry”.
Official counts are that Iceland has killed 280 endangered fin whales and more than 200 minke whales since it restarted its commercial whaling operation s in 2006.
According to the NRDC website: “In the last two years alone, it has exported over 1,200 tons of whale, blubber and oil, worth more than $17 million to Japan, as well as additional shipments to Belarus, the Faroe Islands, Latvia and Norway.”
Under the domestic law (the Pelly Amendment), the president is authorized to take actions against foreign nationals or countries who flout international animal conservation rules (note: such “rules” are not in fact, “laws”, but strongly advocated “guidelines”; consequently, some nations defy these rules)
Recent negotiation efforts between Iceland, the U.S. and the IWC, were deemed a “failure”**, leaving the U.S. with few choices but to take stronger steps — including imposing economic penalties and sanctions. However, this is not a sure thing, as Iceland is still reeling from the financial collapse, and, under WTO rules, sanctions could be considered to be “barriers to trade”, giving Iceland some recourse (possibly monetary compensation from the U.S and other nations participating in the trade sanctions).
Still, as distasteful as paying a nation not to kill whales sounds, it may be the surest route to saving the whales…As in all matters, nothing in the conservation world is a sure thing. Stay tuned!
* Under IWC guidelines, a certain number per year of whale “captures” is permitted for “scientific research”.
** See the news article Greenpeace Condemns Whaling Nations’ Sabotage as IWC 63 Closes in Jersey
Read the NRDC press release: U.S. Declares Iceland in Defiance of Global Commercial Whaling Ban, and, visit the Animal Legal and Historical Center to learn more about the Pelly Amendment.
Further Notes: This author reported on a controversial, proposed change in this quota system early last year (Controversial New Whaling Quotas Proposed by IWC). Under the proposed new rules, quotas for “scientific research” would be allowed, but ships had to carry human monitors and tracking beacons. This measure was to counter the exploiting of the loophole which has led to an increase in whale kills since the 1990/s. Also, the proposed rule would establish the South Atlantic Ocean sanctuary.
Top photo: (Icelandic whaling vessels)Wurzeller ; CC – By – SA 3.0
Second photo: (minke whale meat) Thjurexoell ; CC / PD