Norway Defies International Trade Ban, Exports Tons of Whale Products to Japan

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is calling on the United States to take Norway to task over an unexpected export of more than four metric tons of whale products to Japan.

A bill of lading obtained by AWI shows that a shipment of 4,250 kg of frozen whale products from the Norwegian company, Myklebust Trading, left Ålesund, Norway, in mid-February, 2013, and is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on April 12. Paperwork identifies the recipient as a Japanese company, Toshi International.

International commercial trade in whale products is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Norway—unlike Iceland—has not successfully exported whale meat commercially to Asia since the 1980s, although attempts have been made. Most recently, a 2008 shipment of five metric tons of minke whale meat from Myklebust Trading, was rejected by the Japanese government due to contamination concerns.

AWI Executive Director Susan Millward called on the US and other governments “to act decisively to convince Japan to reject Norway’s recent shipment of whale products.” 

When it resumed commercial whaling in 1993 in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s ban, the United States certified Norway under domestic legislation known as the Pelly Amendment. President Clinton refrained from imposing trade sanctions, in part because Norway was not exporting whale products at that time.

The February export of Norwegian whale meat to Japan was confirmed by Statistics Norway, which also show that Norway received 14 metric tons of whale products from Iceland that same month. It is known that Myklebust Trading recently sought guidance from the Norwegian government on both imports of whale meat from Iceland.

Iceland, meanwhile, has shipped almost 3,000 metric tons of whale meat to Japan since it resumed commercial whaling in 2006, and Icelandic products now represent some 20 percent of Japanese whale meat sales. In 2012, the Obama administration opted to use diplomatic pressure against Iceland to urge that government to stop its whaling. The U.S. government is currently considering additional actions, including the imposition of trade sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment.

Millward added, “It is time for the Obama administration to take a stand against commercial whaling, and to remind Norway and Iceland that trade embargoes remain a possibility if whale exports continue.”

To access the full briefing, click here.

Notes for editors:

1. Norway, Iceland and Japan have all lodged formal reservations to the listing of whale species on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits the international trade in Appendix I species for primarily commercial purposes.

2. Norwegian whaling has been in a long-term downward spiral. Many analysts feel that the only way for it to survive would be for the industry to gain access to the Japanese market. Compared to 34 Norwegian vessels hunting for whales in 2003, only 20 took part in the 2012 whaling season. In addition, the industry has been unable to generate enough domestic consumer interest, and has fallen far short of using its full quota. In 2012, 65 percent of the quota went unused as compared to 9 percent in 2003.

In early November 2011, in response to calls from the Norwegian whaling industry, Norway’s Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, Lisbeth Berg Hansen, met with Japan’s Fisheries Minster, Akira Gunji, to discuss the possibility of opening the Japanese market to Norwegian whale products. A month later, the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management (DIRNAT), issued a CITES export license to Myklebust Trading.

3. In April 2010, a Japanese vessel was implicated in the shipment of Icelandic whale meat from Rotterdam to Japan. Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the NYK Orion when it was discovered that the vessel was about to leave port with seven containers of endangered fin whale meat on board.

4. The Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act (22 U.S.C. §1978, as amended) or “Pelly Amendment” is a U.S. law that allows the president to impose trade sanctions or to take other measures against nations whose citizens undermine international conservation agreements.

Norway objected to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) whaling moratorium and resumed commercial whaling in 1993. The United States opposed the action at the time, and certified Norway under the Pelly Amendment. The United States did not take further action under the Pelly Amendment because Norway decided to restrict its commercial hunt in several ways, including by refraining from international trade in whale products.

In December 2010, 19 animal protection and conservation organizations petitioned the U.S. Secretaries of Commerce and Interior under the Pelly Amendment, asking them to take action against Iceland for its commercial whaling and trade. The Commerce Department responded affirmatively in July of 2011, and in September 2011, President Obama directed the Secretaries of State and Commerce to continue to keep the situation under review and “to continue to urge Iceland to cease its commercial whaling activities.” Iceland did not conduct fin whaling in 2011 or 2012 but minke whaling continued, as did exports to Japan.

The Interior Department has not yet issued its Pelly findings on Iceland’s trade in whale products. On February 27, 2013, NGOs sent a letter to the Secretaries of Commerce, Interior and State urging them to consider targeted economic sanctions against Icelandic whaling interests after Kristján Loftsson, the head of Iceland’s fin whaling company, announced he intended to resume fin whaling this summer.