Iceland to Resume Commercial Fin Whale Hunt

A fin whale blows in the North Atlantic. Iceland’s Hvalur company seeks to slaughter 150 of these endangered whales this summer, after a two-year hiatus.Almost two years ago, Iceland’s Hvalur Inc., headed by Kristjan Loftsson, suspended its fin whale hunt. It continued however to export thousands of tons of mainly fin whale products, principally to Japan. In fact, Icelandic whale meat now represents 20 percent of whale meat sales in Japan. Perhaps stocks are running low, because Mr. Loftsson announced in February his intention to resume hunting fin whales by killing 150 this summer.

While the real reasons for the cessation of fin whaling back in 2011 may never be publically known, we do know that in March of that year two of the Japanese whale processing companies that did business with Hvalur suffered greatly from the tsunami. Another factor that could have been at play was the pending certification of Iceland by the U.S. secretary of commerce, in response to a petition filed under the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act by AWI and other groups in December 2010. The petition asserted that citizens of Iceland were conducting fishing operations that diminished the effectiveness of an international fishery conservation agreement—namely the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which bans commercial whaling. The certification led to a rebuke from the president and diplomatic measures taken against Iceland, which stand today. Sadly these measures don’t appear to have been meaningful enough to derail Mr. Loftsson.

In order for President Obama’s condemnation of Iceland to have a longer-term impact on its whaling policy, his words must be matched by more robust action, including narrowly targeted trade sanctions against individuals and companies engaged in Iceland’s commercial whale hunt and those facilitating the hunt. To that end AWI has provided the U.S. Government with extensive information on companies with direct links to Hvalur and is urging trade sanctions against those companies. Only then will the president’s directive to “raise U.S. concerns regarding commercial whaling by Icelandic companies and seek ways to halt such action” be fulfilled.

The international trade in whale products by Iceland is the subject of a companion Pelly Amendment petition, submitted by AWI and other groups at the same time as the aforementioned petition, but to the secretary of the interior. The petition asserts that Icelandic citizens are engaged in trade that diminishes the effectiveness of an international program for endangered or threatened species—in this case the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We have not yet received a response to this petition, despite numerous promises to address it.

Given that trade with Japan seemingly is the motivator behind a resumption of fin whaling, the secretary of the interior needs to act now in conjunction with the secretary of commerce and the president, so as to end both the illegal whaling and the concomitant trade.