Iceland Under Pressure

After traveling to Japan to assess current trade opportunities, Icelandic whaling magnate Kristjan Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur whaling company, announced to a group of his employees that Iceland’s fin whale hunt will be postponed indefinitely. Hvular employs up to 150 people during the summer whaling season, and an unconfirmed number are expected to lose their jobs at Hvular. Loffston cites destroyed facilities in Japan, coupled with limited opportunities for exporting fin whale meat due to a mood of austerity within Japanese society, as the primary reasons for the decision. Japan is the only buyer for Icelandic fin whale meat.

Lagging Japanese exports is not the only troubling front for Iceland’s whaling industry. In an attempt to avoid a financial meltdown, the crisis-struck Nordic country is current under review for accession into the European Union, and its escalating whaling and export of whale products is at odds with the EU’s staunchly anti-whaling legislation. As late as June 2010, Iceland continued to thumb its nose at the EU’s request to cease its whaling operations, but as its economy continues to crumble, Iceland may be forced to reconsider its contentious position on whaling, and instead strategically weigh the long-term political and economic gains of giving whaling up versus continuing to willfully disregard prevailing attitudes of the vast majority of the world’s citizenry.

Domestically, we continue to make strides in calling attention to Iceland’s escalating whaling program. Buttressed by the support of more than 80,000 emails forwarded to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar collected by the American Cetacean Society and five collaborating NGOs, the Obama Administration is threatening to impose trade sanctions against Iceland under the U.S. Pelly Amendment (aka, Fisheries Protective Act of 1967). Under Pelly, countries engaging in whaling or trade whale may face trade sanctions against any of their products that enter the United States. In Iceland’s case, this primarily applies to frozen fish and seafood products (e.g., Icelandic cod). While the U.S. has yet to impose trade sanctions against a nation on account of its whaling activities, the authority to do so is a continuing threat.

In preparation for this year’s meeting of the IWC, Iceland has submitted its quota proposal and as expected, it is ridiculously high. And unlike Norway and Japan, there is no indication that domestic consumption of whale meat is abating; paradoxically, fin whale meat is regarded as ‘exotic’ (relative to minke whale) and consequently domestic consumption (including tourism consumption) is increasing.

Meanwhile, minke whale hunting in Iceland continues. Last year 60 minke whales were killed.

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