Groups Seek US Trade Sanctions against Iceland in Response to Escalating Whaling Activities

Washington, D.C. -- Nineteen conservation and animal welfare groups, representing tens of millions of U.S. citizens, today called on the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to impose trade sanctions against Iceland for its escalating defiance of international conservation agreements on commercial whaling.

A petition filed by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) on behalf of the ‘Whales Need US’ coalition and Species Survival Network, urges Secretaries Locke and Salazar to invoke U.S. conservation legislation known as the Pelly Amendment against Iceland, a move that could deal a death blow to Iceland's out of control whaling industry.

The conservation and welfare groups have identified specific Icelandic companies as potential targets for trade sanctions; these include major seafood industry players that are directly tied to Iceland’s whaling industry. At the center is Icelandic fin whaling company, Hvalur, Sue Fisher of WDCS explains.

“Iceland’s actions meet the conditions for Pelly sanctions, and we’ve provided the U.S. government with the information necessary to carry out sanctions by identifying the ‘Hvalur Group’, and its associated companies, including HB Grandi, Iceland’s biggest fishing company.”

The Pelly Amendment authorizes the President to impose trade sanctions against another country for “diminishing the effectiveness” of conservation agreements; in Iceland’s case, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which bans commercial whaling, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits international commercial trade in whale products.

Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International,  is optimistic that the Obama administration will impose sanctions: “we are greatly encouraged to hear that the administration has serious concerns with Iceland’s whaling and trade and is ‘considering its options’. Imposing trade measures will provide the U.S. with the opportunity to demonstrate the kind of leadership on whale conservation that the U.S. public demands”.

“We applaud the U.S. for recognizing that more must be done to stop this senseless killing,” said D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “This petition provides the government with the evidence it needs to act urgently and decisively to impose significantly stronger measures against Iceland and its whaling industry.”

“Now is the time for the U.S. to take robust measures against Iceland for its continued defiance of international law,” said Taryn Kiekow, staff attorney for the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council. “Iceland’s commercial whaling policy is considered archaic and cruel by the rest of the world and we ask the U.S. to impose trade sanctions against it.”


  • In 1982, the IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling, effective from 1986/7. Iceland did not formally object to the moratorium, but left the IWC in 1992. In 2002, it rejoined the IWC and its accession documents included a reservation to the commercial whaling moratorium.
  • Under international law, a party seeking to accede to a convention cannot take a reservation to a measure that is incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. The IWC’s convention does, however, allow objections to Schedule amendments by its members within a proscribed period after the adoption of the amendment. Iceland chose not to file an objection to the 1982 adoption of the moratorium and therefore became bound by it. By including a reservation in its accession notification, Iceland tried to change its previous acceptance of the moratorium. Eighteen countries, including the United States, registered a formal objection to Iceland’s reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling, and Mexico, New Zealand and Italy do not recognise Iceland’s membership of the IWC.
  • Iceland’s continued, and expanding, commercial whaling (including on an endangered species) under its reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling is conducted without IWC supervision and control of the whaling operation. Iceland’s catch limits are not calculated in accordance with the IWC’s agreed procedures, and the fin whale quota far exceeds what the Scientific Committee would consider sustainable. Its commercial whaling is conducted in defiance of objections to its reservation recorded by eighteen contracting governments. These actions clearly diminish the effectiveness of the ICRW/IWC.
  • CITES responded to the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling by transferring all whales species to its Appendix I, thereby prohibiting international commercial trade in whale products. Japan, Norway and Iceland lodged reservations that exempted them from the Appendix I listings. Iceland’s escalating exports of whale products under reservation, to non-Parties, and illegally, diminishes the effectiveness of CITES’ trade controls and are grounds for Pelly certification and sanctions.
  • Iceland imported eight tonnes of minke whale meat and blubber from Norway in two shipments in 2002, under their respective CITES reservations; Iceland illegally exported 2.7 tons of whale oil to Belarus in 2006 and 2010 and 259 kg of whale meat to Latvia in 2010; Iceland exported 846,046 kg of “frozen whale meat and other products to Japan since 2008 (over 90% in 2010) under their respective CITES reservations; Iceland has exported eight separate shipments of whale oil to Norway since 2008, totaling 708 kg, under their respective CITES reservations; Iceland has exported 1309 kg of whale meat to the Faroe Islands, a non-party to CITES.


  • 2002: Iceland rejoined the IWC with a reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling.
  • 2003: U.S. objected to the objected to the reservation contained in Iceland’s instrument of adherence. Iceland resumed special permit whaling, taking 36 minke whales.
  • 2004: Iceland took 25 minke whales under special permit. The U.S. certified Iceland under Pelly for its special permit whaling but opted not to pursue trade sanctions.
  • 2005: Iceland took 39 minke whales under special permit.
  • 2006: Iceland took 60 minke whales under special permit and resumed commercial whaling under its reservation to the IWC’s moratorium; it took seven fin whales out of a self-allocated quota of nine and one out of 30 minkes under its reservation.
  • 2007: Iceland took no fin whales and six minke whales under its reservation, and 36 minke whales in the last year of its special permit whaling.
  • 2008: Iceland took 38 minke whales out of a quota of 40 and no fin whales under its reservation.
  • 2009: Iceland dramatically increased its annual whaling quotas to 150 fin and 150 minke whales for 2009-2013. It took 125 fin and 81 minke whales.
  • 2010: Iceland killed 148 fin and 60 minke whales.


Media Contact:
D.J. Schubert, AWI, (202) 390-7680 or

Share This!