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Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s Blog

U.S. to Iceland: Stop Trading in Endangered Whale Meat

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Posted February 6, 2014

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Fin Whale NOAA 2.jpg

Endangered fin whales facing Iceland’s harpoons have a new ally: the United States Department of Interior. Today Interior Secretary Sally Jewell certified to President Obama under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act that Iceland’s international trade in whale meat and products diminishes the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Click here to read our response to the good news.

After a two year hiatus, Iceland resumed fin whale hunting last year – and allocated itself a quota of 184 fin whales every year for the next five years.  Fin whales are the world’s second largest animal and are listed as an endangered species.

“Just 25 years ago, commercial whaling had nearly driven whales to extinction, but thanks to a global effort to conserve whale stocks and end over-harvesting, several whale species have begun to recover,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a press release. “Iceland’s whaling activities undermine these worldwide efforts to conserve whales.”

NRDC and other animal welfare and conservation groups have been calling on the Obama Administration to impose targeted economic sanctions against Iceland since 2010, when we filed a petition under the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act urging the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to certify and enact sanctions against Iceland.

Former Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke responded to our petition in July 2011 by certifying Iceland for its continued slaughter of whales. In a letter to President Obama, he said that “Iceland, by permitting its nationals to engage in commercial whaling and exporting endangered fin whale meat, is diminishing the effectiveness of the IWC conservation program.”

President Obama enacted diplomatic sanctions against Iceland in September 2011, finding that “Iceland's actions threaten the conservation status of an endangered species and undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales.”

But despite U.S. certification and diplomatic sanctions, Iceland continues to kill fin whales.  In total defiance of international law, it recently announced a new five-year quota for fin whales – beginning with the 2014 whaling season – which will allow it to kill a total of up to 770 fin whales in the next five years. Fin whales are hunted predominately for export to the Japanese market.

The Department of Interior found that more than 1.6 million kilograms of fin whale meat and products were exported from Iceland to Japan from 2008 to 2012. Fin whales are listed in Appendix I of CITES, which prohibits trade for primarily commercial purposes.

According to reports, Japan then turns that endangered whale meat into luxury dog treats. Iceland has also started to use the whale meat in novelty beer.

Led by renowned actor and marine mammal activist Pierce Brosnan, NRDC urged President Obama back in 2011 to impose tough sanctions against Iceland.


Unfortunately, the President responded with diplomatic sanctions that have not deterred Iceland’s renegade whaling.

It’s clear that diplomacy has failed. Secretary Jewell’s certification provides the President with another opportunity to impose meaningful sanctions.  Now is the time for the President to respond with hard-hitting economic sanctions targeting Iceland’s whaling companies – and companies with corporate ties to those whaling companies.

We have identified several Icelandic companies as potential targets for trade sanctions, including major seafood industry players that are directly tied to Iceland’s whaling industry.  And we urge the Obama administration to impose targeted trade sanctions against those companies.


 Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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Cristina MendesFeb 6 2014 04:00 PM

Stop Trading in Endangered Whale Meat

Aron Björn KristinssonFeb 6 2014 06:03 PM

Americans don't seem to care at all that their nation hunts whale also, a lot, whales that are indeed endangered like the fin whale.
This fact seem to elude most americans, easier to turn a blind eye to their own doings.

To quote a little something for the readers of this article in light of their ongoing bowhead whale hunting:

The bowhead is listed in Appendix I by CITES (that is, "threatened with extinction"). It is listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service as "endangered" under the auspices of the United States' Endangered Species Act. The IUCN Red List data are as follows:
Svalbard population – Critically endangered
Sea of Okhotsk subpopulation – Endangered
Baffin Bay-Davis Strait stock – Endangered
Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin stock – Vulnerable
Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock – Lower risk – conservation dependent

Sigurdur WilliamFeb 6 2014 06:08 PM

I just want to say that I don´t support the hunting of whales by any country but doesn´t it look silly for a country that kills more whales than Iceland does, to threaten sanctions? Are they trying to get rid of competition or? How about we try to stop the killing on a global scale and not just by bullying the small countries

HafsteinnFeb 6 2014 08:50 PM

so the us is going to try and dictate to yet another country how to behave themselves.
You stick to killing innocent peolpe with your warfare and we will keep to hunting these few whales a year.


The us is on the top 10 list of countries that hunts the most whales, Iceland is not even on it.

Taryn Kiekow HeimerFeb 6 2014 08:58 PM

Thanks so much for your comments. I'd like to clarify a few points. Yes, Alaska Eskimos hunt bowhead whales for subsistence purposes in the United States. But there are several important distinctions between the hunt of bowhead whales in Alaska and the hunt of fin (and minke) whales in Iceland. First, subsistence hunting like the hunt conducted in Alaska is allowed under international treaty (the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling). Commercial whaling like the hunt in Iceland has been banned since 1986. Second, the United States has received the proper authorization from the International Whaling Commission to lawfully conduct the hunt in Alaska. Not only does Iceland’s self-allocated commercial whaling quota violate the ICRW, it is also three times higher than what the IWC’s Scientific Committee (the world’s foremost experts on whales) considers sustainable for the survival of fin whales. Finally, the United States does not trade in whale meat or products (whaling is conducted for subsistence purposes only). In contrast, the majority of Iceland’s fin whale meat is shipped to Japan in violation of CITES. The unlawfulness of Iceland's whaling is the crux of the issue here.

leeFeb 6 2014 10:00 PM

I'd like to see no whales killed at all, but there is a difference between a commercial whaling hunt (and the Bogus Japanese Research hunt) and the ones conducted by eskimoes/alaskans etc. Iceland is just stupid doing this - as it Japan.

Michelle NixonFeb 6 2014 10:03 PM

Just stop the killing it's not necessary or traditional :(

leeFeb 6 2014 11:18 PM

and lets forget that horrific dolphin/whale slaughter done by the Faroes island - thousands of them, hearded into the shallows, dragged up onto the sand by hooks in their blow holes, and stabbed, cut up in a mad bloodbath...all for "fun". With children looking on, mothers, calves, preganant ones entire pods/families - wiped out in a savage frenzy by truly truly disgusting people. Yes, for "fun". they are discarded afterwards. If anyone should get sanctions, its the Faroe islands. They should get more then sanctions actually...

HafsteinnFeb 7 2014 04:48 AM

I would like to see the U.S stop the murdering of innocents and spying on the rest before they start trying to act like they have any moral or legal high ground.

HafsteinnFeb 7 2014 04:55 AM

The u.s is whaling about 300 times more than iceland, so this reeks of double standards. If you truly care about the whales you would first sort out your own back yard.

Jamie McCroskeyFeb 11 2014 12:00 PM

Iceland rejoined the IWC after a 10 year absence. They rejoined and were accepted for re-admission on the basis that they intended to resume whaling commercially under objection to the moratorium. The one condition imposed by the IWC was to refrain from whaling commercially until 2006. Iceland honered this condition. Iceland has a CITES reservation to Fin whales allowing them to trade with Japan, who also have a reservation under CITES for Fins. There are hundreds of species covered under CITES Appendices and I guess they figure that participation of members that lodge a reservation to a couple species is preferable to no participation at all.
These treaties are voluntary in the first place and the goal is to achieve some level of cooperation and participation. It's rarely complete as these nations sometimes have differing viewpoints in certain areas. Only a handful of nations have reservations to whales and even then, only to a few selected species. It is not an across the board reservation to whales in general.

Sometimes it reflects the reality of the local population of a species as compared to its overall world status. In the case of fins, they are overall classed by IUCN as Endangered. The North Atlantic sub population is in much better shape than the SO population.

Iceland kept their word why can't the USA keep theirs? Shame on US.

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