President Obama Challenges Iceland Over Whaling

In July, the Secretary of Commerce certified to President Obama that Iceland was undermining the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and its treaty because of its rogue whaling (AWI Quarterly, Spring 2011). The certification, made under the Pelly Amendment of the Fishermen’s Protective Act (22 U.S.C. §1978, as amended), triggered a 60-day countdown for the president to respond—with options ranging from trade sanctions to doing nothing. Iceland has been certified in the past but sanctions have never been imposed.

On September 15, President Obama made his report to Congress. He neither imposed trade sanctions nor did nothing—opting rather for diplomatic actions. In a strongly worded message, the president stated that, “Iceland's actions threaten the conservation status of an endangered species and undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales. Iceland's increased commercial whaling and recent trade in whale products diminish the effectiveness of the IWC's conservation program... .” He directed US agencies to take definitive steps to “ensure that this issue continues to receive the highest level of attention.” Those steps included raising the issue with Iceland at high-level meetings, tying US cooperation in Arctic projects to changes in Iceland’s whaling policy, and working with other international bodies to end Icelandic commercial whaling.

While trade measures would have more directly hurt Iceland’s whaling interests, AWI believes that if properly carried out, the President’s directives can be impactful. AWI is pressing the relevant federal agencies to act decisively, and we are actively working to identify products from companies associated with Iceland’s whaling industry, to enable retailers and consumers to avoid trade in them.

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