Will The US Stand Up To Iceland Over Whales?

A powerful US law allows the president to impose trade sanctions on nations whose citizens undermine conservation agreements. The Pelly Amendment of the Fishermen’s Protective Act (22 U.S.C. §1978, as amended) or “Pelly Amendment” requires the Secretary of Commerce to certify to the president when citizens of a foreign country are conducting fishing operations that diminish the effectiveness of an international fishery conservation agreement. Similarly, the Secretary of the Interior must certify when foreign nationals are engaged in trade that diminishes the effectiveness of an international program for endangered or threatened species.

After certification, the president can impose sanctions—directing the Secretary of the Treasury to prohibit the importation of any products from the offending country for any duration to the extent allowed by World Trade Organization and other trade rules. Certification is a persuasive tool that has been used on dozens of occasions, sometimes multiple times against the same country. Actual trade sanctions have only been imposed once, against Taiwan in 1994, for its trade in rhinoceros and tiger products. In other cases, nations have come into line without the need for sanctions.

Pelly certification over whaling and trade in whale parts has a long history, with all three of the remaining commercial whaling nations—Norway, Japan and Iceland—having been certified on one or more occasions in the past 30+ years. Iceland’s history in this regard is particularly messy. In 1982 members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), including Iceland, agreed to a moratorium on commercial whaling, which came into force in 1986. After abiding by the moratorium for several years but also conducting lethal “research” on whales, Iceland left the IWC in 1992. In 2002 it rejoined, but with a reservation to the moratorium. The reservation was objected to by 19 other parties to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), including the US Iceland recommenced lethal “research” whaling in 2003 and the following year was certified by the Secretary of Commerce for undermining the effectiveness of the whaling convention. President Bush declined to impose sanctions, favoring non-trade actions and diplomatic approaches, which had no discernable influence on Iceland’s behavior.

Iceland killed a total of 200 minke whales between 2003 and 2007. It announced at the conclusion of its fourth year of “research” that it would also resume commercial whaling, and not just on minke whales, but on endangered fin whales, as well. It allocated itself a commercial whaling quota of 9 fin and 30 minke whales for the 2006/7 season and 40 minke whales in 2008. It then dramatically increased the quotas in 2009; over the past two years, Iceland has killed 141 minke and 274 fin whales—the latter being over three times more than the IWC’s Scientific Committee says is sustainable.

Iceland’s trade in whale products presents a similarly shameful picture. International trade in vulnerable wildlife is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In response to the passage of the commercial whaling moratorium, CITES listed all great whales, including fin and minke (1) whales, on its Appendix I. As a result, international trade in their parts or derivatives for primarily commercial purpose is prohibited between CITES parties. As with the whaling convention, CITES rules allow parties to take reservations to CITES decisions and not be bound by them, although the CITES Secretariat has warned that “reservations undermine the effectiveness of Conventions.” Iceland lodged a reservation to the great whale Appendix I listing when it joined CITES in 2000. Despite the CITES trade ban in whale products, Iceland has engaged in international trade in whale meat, oil and/or other products to several countries. These trade partners include not only other CITES parties that hold reservations to the ban (Norway and Japan), but also—illegally—to parties without reservations (Denmark, Latvia, Belarus) and non-parties (Faroe Islands).

The domestic market for whale meat in Iceland—whose population is roughly that of Pittsburgh—is saturated. It is not surprising therefore that its exports of whale meat have expanded in parallel with its increased catches. In the last three years exports have skyrocketed. In 2010 alone, Iceland exported nearly 800 tons of whale products, worth almost US$11 million.

Iceland’s escalating whaling and international trade clearly demonstrate that more than six years of diplomatic efforts to curtail its rogue behavior have failed. The US has acknowledged that the Pelly Amendment “has been one of our most effective tools in the effort to conserve the [great] whales” (2) yet it isn’t being applied. In November 2010 the US publically chastised Iceland for its behavior and meanwhile has initiated other diplomatic efforts. To avoid a repeat of history, however, more must be done and the law must be applied. In December 2010 AWI and 18 other groups petitioned the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, presenting strong evidence to justify recertification of Iceland and recommending trade sanctions. It is time for the Obama administration to use this powerful tool provided by the Pelly Amendment to hold Iceland accountable for its open defiance of international law.

(1) With the exception of the West Greenland population of minke whales, which remains on Appendix II.

(2) H.R Rep. No. 95-1029, 95 Cong., 2d Sess. (1978), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1773-1775, 1780.

You Can Make a Difference
Please contact the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior and urge them to (1) certify under the Pelly Amendment that Iceland is diminishing the effectiveness of both the ICRW and CITES, and (2) recommend to President Obama that he impose long overdue trade sanctions until Iceland ceases unlawful commercial whaling and international trade in whale products.

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20230
email: [email protected]

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar
1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240
email: [email protected]

Some points to include:

  • Iceland’s continued, and expanding, commercial whaling under its reservation to the commercial whaling moratorium is conducted without IWC approval and oversight.
  • Iceland’s catch limits do not follow the IWC’s agreed procedures, and the quota for fin whales—an endangered species—far exceeds what the Scientific Committee considers sustainable.
  • Iceland’s commercial whaling is conducted in defiance of objections to its reservation recorded by 19 nations that are parties to the ICRW.
  • Iceland’s escalating exports of whale products, including to non-parties and parties without a reservation to the listing, diminishes the effectiveness of CITES trade controls.