Despite its own large fishing industry, the United States is one of the world’s top seafood importing countries, and imports of Icelandic seafood products have been on the rise. By 2014, nearly 32 percent of haddock and 8 percent of cod produced by Iceland was being exported to the United States. Unfortunately, some of the companies sending that seafood have corporate ties to Icelandic whalers.
For the past few years, AWI and fellow members of the “http://dontbuyfromicelandicwhalers.com” coalition have brought our message to more than 20,000 participants attending Seafood Expo North America (SENA), held in Boston each March. Leading up to this year’s Expo, we wrote to retailers, asking them not to buy seafood from companies linked to Icelandic whaling. HB Grandi is the primary such company; its chairman, Kristjan Loftsson, is managing director of and a key shareholder in the Hvalur hf whaling company.
In response to our letters we received the good news that supermarket chain Wegmans—a significant presence in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions—had agreed to join High Liner, Trader Joe’s, and Ahold USA (the parent company of Giant, Stop & Shop, and Martin’s supermarkets) in publicly stating its opposition to commercial whaling and assuring us that they do not source products from companies tied to commercial whaling.
Iceland Seafood International (ISI), a global company headquartered in Reykjavik, also issued a statement prior to SENA, acknowledging that the utilization of whales is considered unacceptable by many, and that it does not deal with companies that participate in commercial whaling. This is a major breakthrough for the campaign; in the past, ISI acknowledged buying from HB Grandi.
Problematically, many retailers—buying from suppliers in good faith—will not know they are putting money into the pockets of the whaling industry, and that an eco-label is no guarantee that a company is “whaling-free.” Similarly, consumers tend to believe that a sustainable label equates with a good marine conservation record. But that is not necessarily the case: Eco-label programs from both Iceland Responsible Fisheries (IRF) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have certified HB Grandi despite its whaling ties.
At SENA 2016 we met with representatives of both eco-label programs and pressed our concern that their logos are inadvertently helping to keep the Icelandic whaling industry alive. We also met with US Ambassador to Iceland Robert C. Barber and discussed the embassy’s efforts to promote responsible whale watching in Iceland as an economic alternative to whaling. Immediately following the Expo, Ambassador Barber issued a statement to the Icelandic media that the United States continues to support the International Whaling Commission ban on commercial whaling, and called on Iceland to “oppose commercial whaling and trade in whale products.”
Loftsson’s Hvalur company has killed more than 700 endangered fin whales since it resumed commercial whaling in 2006. It has announced that this year, however, it is unlikely to go whaling (although minke whaling in Iceland is expected to continue). We accept Hvalur’s announcement with guarded optimism—Iceland has ceased whaling before, only to resume a few years later. Yet, we are cautiously hopeful that fin whales will be safe from Icelandic harpoons throughout 2016.