Iceland's whaling and whale meat exports - the IWC must act!

| 10th September 2014
Icelandic fin whale meat on sale in Japan. Photo: EIA.
Icelandic fin whale meat on sale in Japan. Photo: EIA.
Tomorrow the 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission begins in Slovenia, writes Clare Perry. Among the issues: Iceland's slaughter of fin whales in defiance of the IWC moratorium, and its illegal export of their flesh and blubber to Japan - over 2,000 tonnes this year alone. The IWC and its member nations must act.
Iceland claims its whaling is sustainable when the best available scientific evidence reveals that its fin whale quota is more than three times greater than the level considered sustainable.

The fin whale is the second largest species on the planet - a giant at more than 20 metres in length but able to swim at speeds in excess of 35km per hour, earning it the nickname 'greyhound of the sea'.

For decades it was the target of industrial-scale commercial whaling operations whose factory fleets decimated whale populations in all oceans.

The wholesale slaughter ended in 1986 with the implementation of the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling.

However, the damage done to the fin whale was already catastrophic. Almost 30 years later it remains an endangered species.

No local demand - yet the whaling continues

Despite its status as an endangered species, and even though there is no local demand for its meat, Iceland permits the hunting of fin whales, as well as the smaller minke whale, in the North Atlantic.

Since 2006, the Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has killed more than 500 fin whales, purely to exploit a limited demand for whale meat and blubber in Japan.

Over the past eight years, Hvalur has exported more than 5,000 tonnes of fin whale products from Iceland to Japan, including a record single shipment of 2,071 tonnes in 2014.

These exports are worth an estimated US$50 million and Iceland's escalating whale hunts are clear and wilful abuses of the IWC's moratorium as well as the ban on international commercial trade in whale products imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Iceland claims its whaling is sustainable when the best available scientific evidence reveals that its fin whale quota is more than three times greater than the level considered sustainable.

Diplomatic protests - but more whales are being killed

Iceland's whaling and associated trade are strongly opposed by the international community.

Dozens of governments have agreed to several strongly worded diplomatic protests (démarches) against Iceland since it resumed whaling in 2003. And the United States Government has recently implemented more extensive bilateral diplomatic measures against Iceland to protest its whaling and trade.

So far, however, political and diplomatic efforts against Iceland's whaling have been insufficient to provoke a change in policy. After a two-year hiatus in 2011 and 2012, which it attributed to market disruption caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Iceland resumed fin whaling with even higher quotas.

In December 2013, Iceland's Ministry of Fisheries issued a five-year block quota for 154 fin whales per year - as many as 770 over the whole period.

At the centre of the industry is Kristján Loftsson, the Executive Director of Hvalur who kept Iceland's whaling fleet intact when most other whaling nations accepted the moratorium and repurposed or scrapped their vessels.

Iceland claims its whaling is sustainable when the best available scientific evidence reveals that its fin whale quota is more than three times greater than the level considered sustainable.

Convinced that Japan still represents a viable market for fin whale products, Hvalur has used the resources of Icelandic fishing giant HB Grandi to keep the shipments flowing to Japan

The IWC must awake from its torpor

Against this backdrop, it is hard to understand why the IWC has made no formal statement concerning Iceland's commercial whaling, even more so since 19 IWC member countries formally objected to Iceland's reservation and several stated that they do not consider the Convention as being in force between Iceland and their countries.

Indeed, this raises the question of whether Iceland was actually legally accepted back into the IWC with its reservation.

It is time for the Contracting Governments to the IWC and non-member governments worldwide to take strong diplomatic and economic action to bring an end to what is clearly the most flagrant abuse of the moratorium on commercial whaling since its inception.

Without such action, Iceland's commercial whaling and its exports of the products of endangered fin whales to Japan will continue, and Hvalur's domination of the Japanese market will grow.

That's why my organisation, the Environmental Investigation Agency, together with the Animal Welfare Institute, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, are calling on the IWC, governments and businesses dealing with Icelandic companies linked to whaling to take action to compel Iceland to cease commercial whaling and trade.

Forcing Iceland to comply with IWC and CITES

IWC Contracting Governments should publicly denounce Iceland's commercial whaling industry, encourage Iceland to cease all commercial whaling and international trade, and withdraw its reservations to the commercial whaling moratorium and CITES Appendix I listings of the great whales.

Those IWC Contracting Governments which are also Parties to CITES should challenge Iceland's abuse of its reservation which is allowing massive international, commercial trade in whale meat and products.

The President of the United States, under the authority provided by the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act, should immediately consider the imposition of targeted economic trade sanctions against Icelandic companies that are directly linked to whaling.

EU and other countries should require their seaports, airports and other ports of arrival to prohibit any ship, air carrier, train or other conveyance carrying whale products, and examine all measures to permanently prevent the transit of protected whale species through their countries.

The EU and its member countries must clearly state that the end of all commercial or 'scientific' whaling in Iceland is non-negotiable in any potential future discussions of Iceland's accession to the EU.

All countries should seek to use the full range of existing diplomatic measures to compel Iceland to permanently end commercial whaling.

A role for companies, and consumers

All companies purchasing Icelandic seafood products should publicly state their opposition to Iceland's commercial whaling - and back their statements up with action to isolate whaling companies, and any other companies involved in the trade, from international seafood markets.

This will mean carrying out a full and transparent audit of their seafood supply chain to determine whether they are purchasing or selling seafood from companies linked to Icelandic whaling either directly, or else indirectly via third parties or subsidiaries.

With determined action from the IWC, governments and companies - especially the major retailers that are most in touch with and responsive to their customers' concerns - we can end Iceland's whale massacre and the illegal trade it sustains.



Clare Perry is Senior Campaigner with the Environmental Investigation Agency, and the principal author of the report.

Read and download: Slayed in Iceland, published by Environmental Investigation Agency, the Animal Welfare Institute, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

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