Madam Secretary: we need your help to stop Icelandic whaling

How many more whales must die?

For those following the issue of whaling in Iceland, it has been a frustrating few weeks. 

Earlier this summer, after a two year break, Kristjan Loftsson, the CEO of Iceland’s lone fin whaling company, resumed his hunt of the endangered whales.

The first fin whale was killed on June 17, and in the past month, the death toll has risen to more than 75 whales. Thankfully, petitions and protests throughout Europe have made a significant impact this time around.

The port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands agreed to refuse shipment of whale meat through their port, and a seizure of falsely labeled Icelandic whale meat in Hamburg, followed by subsequent pressure and protesting, has led to a similar decision within Germany. Samskip, the Icelandic shipping company with whom this shipment originated, has subsequently declared that they no longer transport whale meat aboard their ships.

Without a company to deliver Loftsson’s prize to Japan (where most of his whale meat goes), the “frozen fish” was sent back to Iceland from Hamburg.

Many hoped without a company to transport the meat, Loftsson would finally realize he was fighting a losing battle, and terminate his cruel and outlandish practice.

Unflappable, and despite strong voices of opposition to the practice of killing fin whales, a complete lack of demand, and the fact that the export and sale of fin whale meat violates the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) prohibiting the selling of this species, alas, Loftsson has released a statement saying that he will continue his fin whale hunt anyway.

Unsold whale meat leftover from Loftsson’s 2009 and 2010 hunts sits in warehouses, and as the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Robbie Marsland said in May, Loftsson “remains resolutely quiet about whether he is even breaking even from the whaling.”

Major Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið reported that in its statement protesting the resumption of fin whaling, the Icelandic Tourism Association said that Loftsson’s decision was difficult to understand, given the strong opposition by Iceland’s main trading countries.

The Association also acknowledged that the “whales have much more value when they are alive than dead.”  Indeed, whale watching has grown to become the biggest tourist industry in all of Iceland, bringing in direct and indirect annual revenues of more than US$20 million.

The question remains why the US government is not doing more to assist Icelanders in endeavors that work to conserve fin whales?

In 1967, Congress passed the Fisherman’s Protective Act.  Section 8 of that act, known as the Pelly Amendment, states that “the President, based on certain findings by the Secretary of Commerce or the Secretary of the Interior, has the discretionary authority to impose import sanctions on any products from any country which conducts fishery practices or engages in trade which diminishes the effectiveness of international programs for fishery conservation or international programs for endangered or threatened species.” 

Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior have used this amendment many times in the past, and the U.S. has even said that the Pelly Amendment “has been one of our most effective tools in the effort to conserve the greatest [sic] whales.”

In fact, Iceland has been the subject of this certification many times over, most recently in 2011 by then-Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, solely on the issue of whaling. 

The Department of the Interior has been reviewing a petition to do the same.  Certification by the Secretary of the Interior NOW will signal to Iceland that renewal of fin whaling is unacceptable, and will realign the United States with the good actions taken in Hamburg and Rotterdam. This certification and subsequent action by the President and administration are needed to keep the pressure on and ensure the powerful voice of the United States is heard.

--MC

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Experts

Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Isabel McCrea, Regional Director, Oceania
Regional Director, Oceania
IFAW Japan Representative
IFAW Japan Representative
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Whales