January 26, 2011
Iceland, Whaling and the Pelly Amendment
The U.S. has a tool in place that could potentially end Iceland's defiant whaling activities
by Marcie Berry
Update: President Barack Obama informed Congress on September 15,2011 of his decision not to apply trade measures to Iceland for commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC ban on such activity. However, he promised that this issue would continue to receive the highest level of attention.
The Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act is an important piece of U.S. legislation that provides the government with a legal mechanism to apply economic sanctions against countries that undermine international fisheries and environmental treaties. It requires the Secretary of Commerce or the Secretary of the Interior to determine and certify to the President when foreign nationals are conducting activities that diminish the effectiveness of an international fishery conservation program or engaging in trade or taking that diminishes the effectiveness of an international program for endangered or threatened species. The Act mandates that the Secretaries periodically monitor and promptly investigate activities of other countries that may affect these international programs. Should they choose to certify a country under the Pelly Amendment, the U.S. president has the right to impose trade sanctions, which would prohibit the importation into the U.S. of certain products from the offending country.
Despite continued defiance of the international ban on commercial whaling by a small group of countries, the United States has never issued trade sanctions for undermining the International Whaling Commission (IWC). HSI and The HSUS have called on the U.S. to invoke the Pelly Amendment to enact sanctions against whaling nations and although the United States claims to have a firm policy against all commercial and scientific whaling, the government has yet to take such a strong stand against it. We believe this may change.
The Iceland issue
In 1986, the moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the IWC went into effect. Although Iceland did not formally object to this moratorium, it chose to leave the IWC in 1992. In 2002, it rejoined the IWC with a reservation to the moratorium. At this time, Iceland began taking whales under special permit for scientific research and in 2004 the Secretary of Commerce at the time certified the country under Pelly, but opted not to pursue trade sanctions in the hope that the threat alone would influence Iceland’s behavior. Instead, in 2006 Iceland decided to resume commercial whaling under its reservation to the IWC moratorium. Rather than taking action under the Pelly Amendment, the U.S. decided to try for a diplomatic solution. Unfortunately, these efforts have failed and Iceland continues to undermine both the IWC and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits the commercial trade in whale products. In fact, in 2009 Iceland dramatically increased its self-allotted quotas and in 2010 alone it exported more than 800 tons of whale meat, blubber and oil.
Time for action
Decades of rampant commercial whaling have depleted great whale populations, and continued whaling activities by a small group of countries are preventing their recovery. In light of Iceland’s increased whale quotas and exports, a group of conservation and animal protection organizations filed a petition in December 2010, urging Secretaries Locke and Salazar to enforce the Pelly Amendment against Iceland. HSI is optimistic that the Obama administration will impose trade sanctions on Iceland. Given that whaling is not yet profitable to the defiant nation, the hope is that Iceland may be forced to cease its whaling in an effort to protect its exports from possible trade measures.