June 30, 2009
Iceland and Whaling: Consequences and Background
Consequences of Iceland's whaling
Iceland's return to commercial whaling in May 2006 presents an imminent threat to minke and fin whales, along with entire marine ecosystems. The ocean floor is a nutritional desert. Many animal species rely on whale carcasses to feed. Research by Craig Smith, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii, has shown that deep-sea extinctions may have already occurred in the North Atlantic where populations of 13 species of whales were greatly diminished by commercial whaling in the 1800s. Whaling continued into the 1970s in the Southern Ocean, and extinctions there may still be occurring.
Iceland's commercial hunts are conducted without any transparency or measures to ensure that quotas are not exceeded. This lack of management and disregard for whale conservation can open the door to pirate whaling.
After Iceland's 20-year hiatus from commercial whaling, and the temporary end to its hunt in August 2007, its resumption is a devastating step backwards.
Iceland's future is in whale-watching, not whaling
With a failing market for whale meat, and as home to an increasing whale-watching industry, Iceland's interests would be better served by preserving whales.
During the summer months, Icelandic waters are among the best in the world for whale-watching, with approximately 15 species of cetaceans swimming in the area. In 2002, 30 percent of visitors to Iceland went whale watching, contributing approximately US$14 million. By comparison, whaling contributed a maximum of US$3.5 million in 1989.
Icelandic tourism companies have publicly opposed their country's resumption of commercial whaling, citing concerns that it would impact the burgeoning whale-watching industry.
The friendly whales who approach the boats on whale-watching trips are likely to be the first killed by whalers because they are the easiest targets. Read an article on the subject: "The Resumption of Whaling by Iceland and the Potential Negative Impact on the Iceland Whale-Watching Market." [PDF]
Despite attempts by the Icelandic government to promote the consumption of whale meat, the domestic market is extremely small. Additionally, trade in whale products is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). In 2003, the former Prime Minister of Iceland stated that a precondition to commercial whaling was that it must be able to export the products, and Iceland would look to Japan as its market. Japan, historically Iceland's primary market for whale products, recently stated that it was not interested in importing Iceland's whale products. However, in June 2008, Iceland ignored the CITES restriction against trading whale products and exported 80 tons of fin whale meat to Japan. The meat was from whales caught in 2006 which reportedly could not sell domestically so it either rotted or sat frozen until a buyer could be found.
Iceland, a principal whaling nation, has killed at least 35,296 whales since 1883. The following timeline charts Iceland's consistent disregard for whale conservation efforts.
September 2011: President Obama informed Congress on September 15 of his decision not to apply trade measures to Iceland for commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC ban on such activity, but promised that this issue would continue to receive the highest level of attention.
July 2011: After a formal declaration by the U.S. that Iceland was undermining the effectiveness of the IWC by hunting whales in defiance of the IWC’s global ban on commercial whaling, President Obama had 60 days to decide whether to impose economic measures including trade sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment. In September 2011, members of the House of Representatives sent a letter [PDF] to Obama urging him to do so.
March 2011: The U.S. and 10 other countries sent a statement [PDF] to the government of Iceland to formally express opposition to Iceland’s commercial whaling hunt and international trade in whale products.
2010: Iceland killed 148 fin and 60 minke whales. 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. Take action to help convince the U.S. to take these stronger measures against Iceland.
January 2009: Iceland announced increased quotas for minke and fin whales. HSI, along with other concerned organizations, sent letters to UK retailers carrying Icelandic fish products regarding the increased quotas. Some publicly declared their opposition to whaling, including retailer Marks and Spencer.
October 2009: The U.S. and 25 other countries sent a statement [PDF] to the government of Iceland to formally express opposition to Iceland’s commercial whaling hunt and international trade in whale products.
May 2008: Iceland resumed commercial whaling, its fisheries minister commenting to Bloomberg News that whale hunting is part of the culture and that minke sashimi is a popular dish.
May 2008: For the first time since the early 1990s, both Iceland and Norway exported whale meat to Japan.
June 2008: Iceland exported 80 tons of fin whale meat to Japan despite the trade in whale products being restricted under CITES.
August 2007: Iceland announced it would end its commercial whale hunt, giving low market demand and lack of access to the Japanese market for whale meat as reasons for the decision.
2006: Iceland supported the St. Kitts and Nevis Declaration (which attacked the moratorium on commercial whaling and non-governmental whale protection efforts).
2006: Iceland defied CITES by stating an intent to export one to two tons of whale meat to the Faroe Islands in September 2006, a move similar to an illegal export of whale meat from Norway to the Faroe Islands.
2006: Iceland started commercial whaling: On Oct. 17, 2006, the Icelandic Fisheries Ministry announced that it would resume commercial whale hunts. Iceland plans on killing 30 minke and nine fin whales by September 2007, while continuing to hunt whales through its "scientific" research program.
2003: Iceland opposed the establishment of a conservation committee in the IWC.
2002: Iceland illegally rejoined the IWC: By leaving the IWC, Iceland was cut off from Japan, its primary market for whale products and a member of the IWC. After two failed attempts, Iceland illegally rejoined the IWC in 2002 with a reservation (objection) to the commercial whaling moratorium. The objection exempted Iceland from the whaling ban.
2002: Iceland restarted "scientific" whaling: When Iceland rejoined the IWC in 2002, it stated that it would begin "scientific" whaling immediately and would not hunt whales commercially until 2006. The IWC condemned Iceland's scientific whaling program, and asked Iceland to abandon its plans to start whaling. In complete disregard of the request, Iceland began hunting minke whales the next year through the "scientific" loophole in the Convention.
1992: Iceland left the IWC: Frustration over the Commission's efforts to protect whale populations prompted Iceland to leave the commission.
1989: Iceland stopped "scientific" whaling: Global condemnation led Iceland to end its "scientific" whaling program.
1986: After decades of commercial whaling, whale populations crashed, and the International Whaling Commission, the body governing commercial whaling and providing for the conservation of whale populations, implemented a ban on all commercial whaling. Iceland did not object to this ban, thereby becoming bound by it.
1986: Before the commercial ban went into effect, Iceland proposed a program that would allow it to continue whaling through a "scientific loophole" in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Immediately after the ban went into effect, Iceland converted its commercial industry to this so-called "scientific" whaling program.