Closing Markets to Whalers

Minke Whale - Photo by Amanda FletcherAWI previously reported on our efforts to dissuade tourists from the United States and other countries from bringing whale meat purchased in Iceland back home (See Winter 2012 AWI Quarterly). Joined now by almost 100 other NGOs around the world, we are urging a number of governments whose citizens travel in significant numbers to Iceland to warn travelers that importing whale products is illegal. Already, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States have taken important first steps.

We are also asking the governments to press Iceland to comply with its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, by providing information to tourists in appropriate languages that they cannot take whale meat home legally. A shocking one-third of minke whales hunted in Iceland are consumed by overseas visitors and we hope that these awareness-raising initiatives will put a significant dent in those sales.

In addition, for more than a year, AWI has documented the strong corporate and familial links between Iceland’s sole fin whaling company, Hvalur hf, and HB Grandi, its biggest fishing company and a major exporter of fish to 34 countries, including the United States. Since March 2011, more than 2.6 million pounds of HB Grandi fish have cleared U.S. customs.

Using state-of-the-art import databases and old-fashioned gumshoe techniques, we now know which U.S. distributers and retailers buy HB Grandi fish. Much of it is imported by Rhode Island-based Legacy Seafoods, Inc., identified by many in the industry as "HB Grandi's main broker in the U.S."

Legacy supplies more than 17,000 customer locations nationwide, and its retail and food service customers include many leading grocery chains. Hundreds of thousands of Americans could unwittingly be eating Icelandic fish caught by whalers. If they knew, we believe many would object.

AWI is writing to each major retailer to warn them of a potential consumer backlash from their sales of fish caught by whalers. We want them to state publicly their opposition to Iceland’s commercial whaling and trade in whale products, and commit to ceasing further purchases of seafood from any company that buys HB Grandi fish. Both Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's, along with major U.S. distributor, United Natural Foods, Inc., (UNFI) are among those we identified as having bought fish from Legacy in the past year.

When we contacted UNFI, it claimed not to have purchased any Legacy products that were produced by HB Grandi; we have sought clarification on this and other issues, but have not received it. Trader Joe's said that it had terminated its contract with Legacy, but to date has not responded to our request to implement a "whaling-free" purchasing policy.

Whole Foods has already severed ties and committed to ceasing further purchases.

After AWI contacted Whole Foods, it took a proactive stand, announcing that its stores have "stopped buying seafood from this supplier in Iceland and have moved our source of cod for the frozen product we offer to domestically produced cod." Whole Foods has committed to a whaling-free purchasing policy, and stated that it would also make sure that it is not buying any fresh cod from the Hvalur Group. All of Whole Foods’ Icelandic seafood vendors in the future will be asked to provide a written affidavit stating that they or their company are not involved in whaling.