U.S. Declares Iceland in Defiance of Global Commercial Whaling Ban

Conservation and Animal Protection Groups Welcome Action and Demand Sanctions

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced yesterday in a formal declaration that Iceland is undermining the effectiveness of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) by hunting whales in defiance of the IWC’s global ban on commercial whaling. As a result, President Obama now has 60 days to decide whether to impose economic measures including trade sanctions against Iceland under conservation legislation known as the "Pelly Amendment." Conservation and animal welfare groups commend Locke’s declaration and urge the President to pursue sanctions.

"U.S. citizens overwhelmingly oppose commercial whaling," said Kitty Block of Humane Society International. "It is both inhumane and unsustainable."

Kate O’Connell of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said, "President Obama has a unique opportunity to demonstrate U.S. leadership on whaling. The American public expects nothing less."

"Iceland has now been deservedly identified as a rogue whaling nation," adds Susan Millward, Executive Director of AWI. "President Obama can end whaling in Iceland by imposing, as he is authorized to do, strident sanctions against Iceland until it complies with international rules."

The U.S. and other IWC member countries have tried for years to persuade Iceland to end its commercial whaling, which includes hunting of the endangered fin whale - the world’s second largest animal. Although the U.S. has previously deemed Iceland and other whaling nations to be conducting commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC ban, it has never imposed trade sanctions. Following a series of failed negotiating efforts, the Obama Administration may finally choose to take strong action against Iceland.

"It’s clear Iceland won’t stop whaling until the world demands it through strong economic pressure," said Taryn Kiekow of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The U.S. must impose serious sanctions."

"Whales don’t belong to any one nation," said Leigh Henry of World Wildlife Fund. "Whale conservation requires global effort and the credibility of the IWC is of the utmost importance if it is to remain effective."

In 2009, Iceland dramatically increased its fin whale quota to 150 animals a year - more than three times the catch limit that would be recommended by the IWC’s approved quota calculation method if the commercial whaling moratorium was not in place. In December 2010, as Iceland’s self-allocated whaling quotas and exports reached record levels, 19 U.S. NGOs, representing tens of millions of U.S. citizens, filed a "Pelly petition" urging the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to certify Iceland pursuant to the Pelly Amendment and encouraging the President to impose trade sanctions against Iceland and specifically against fisheries-related businesses linked to its whaling industry.

Iceland has killed 280 endangered fin whales and more than 200 minke whales since it resumed commercial whaling in 2006. In the last two years alone, it has exported over 1,200 tons of whale, blubber and oil, worth more than $17 million to Japan, as well as additional shipments to Belarus, the Faroe Islands, Latvia and Norway.


Media Contacts:
Susan Millward, AWI, (202) 446-2123
Martin Montorfano, HSI, (301) 258-3152, mmontorfano@hsi.org
Jessica Lass, NRDC, (310) 434-2300, jlass@nrdc.org
Caroline Behringer, WWF, office: (202) 495-4514, cell: (443) 285-1928, caroline.behringer@wwfus.org

The Animal Welfare Institute, headquartered in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1951 and is dedicated to alleviating suffering inflicted on animals by humans.

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations - backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide - On the Web at hsi.org. Follow HSI on Twitter. See our work for animals on your iPhone by searching "HumaneTV" in the App Store.

About World Wildlife Fund
WWF is the world’s leading conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit www.worldwildlife.org to learn more.   

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at http://www.nrdc.org/.

Established back in 1987, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of all whales and dolphins. http://www.wdcs.org/





The Pelly Amendment

Pelly Amendment of the Fishermen’s Protective Act 22 U.S.C. §1978, as amended Pub. L. No. 95-376, 92 Stat. 714 (Sept. 18, 1978)

The United States has acknowledged that the Pelly Amendment "has been one of our most effective tools in the effort to conserve the greatest [sic] whales" and, in addition to Iceland, has certified Japan, Norway and Russia for diminishing the effectiveness of the ICRW (the convention that established the IWC). The United States imposed trade sanctions under the Pelly Amendment against Taiwan in 1994 for diminishing the effectiveness of CITES for illegal trade in rhino and tiger parts.

Iceland’s Whaling

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 recognize Iceland’s membership of the IWC.

Iceland’s continued, and expanding, commercial whaling (including of an endangered species) under its reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling is conducted without IWC supervision and control of the whaling operation. 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. Iceland has ignored all diplomatic criticism of its hunting, including several strongly worded official diplomatic protests (demarches) from a wide range of countries in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011.


  • 2002: Iceland rejoined the IWC with a reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling.
  • 2003: U.S. 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 126 fin and 81 minke whales.
  • 2010: Iceland killed 148 fin and 60 minke whales.
  • March 2011: Iceland exported 289.13 tons, its largest single shipment of whale products to Japan since the IWC ban took effect.

Iceland’s Trade

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 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 allow them to trade legally in whale products with each other. Iceland’s recent exports of whale products to Latvia and Belarus which do not hold reservations to the CITES listing were illegal. Together with its escalating exports of whale products under reservation, Iceland is diminishing the effectiveness of CITES’ trade controls - grounds for Pelly certification and sanctions.

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 has exported 1,200 tons of fin whale meat to Japan since 2008 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 1,309 kg of whale meat to the Faroe Islands, a non-party to CITES.

The 'Hvalur Group'

Iceland’s ‘Hvalur (meaning 'whaling') Group’, comprising Hvalur hf; Fiskhlutfelagið Venus; Vogun; Vænting; HB Grandi and Hampiðjan, is the product of decades-long corporate and familial connections linked to Iceland's fishing and whaling industries. In turn, these companies are themselves tied to major players in Iceland's seafood, banking and investment firms.  Hvalur hf, the fin whaling company, is also one of Iceland's leading investment companies. HB Grandi is Iceland's largest fishing and seafood export company, controlling nearly 10 percent of the country's fishing quotas. The U.S represents four percent of Grandi's overseas markets. Hampiðjan is one of the largest fishing gear suppliers in the world.

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