Whaling Policy a Source of Conflict between Iceland, US

Written by on July 31, 2011 in Policy & Ocean Law

Henry Workman
Marine Science Today Writer

Whaling, a longtime source of economic independence for the nation of Iceland, is at the center of an ongoing debate which puts economic policy in direct conflict with environmental concerns.  Despite international efforts made to improve the status of endangered species such as the fin whale, Iceland’s commercial whale industry has recently been growing.  Undermining international cooperation on protection of whale species is seen as the biggest danger of allowing the industry to carry on unregulated.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is a multinational body originally created in an effort to benefit the whaling industry, in addition to lessening ecological consequences.  In 1986 a moratorium on whaling was imposed on the nations comprising the IWC, including Iceland, in order to allow the populations of endangered whale species to make a comeback.  The regulations’ effectiveness has faltered over the years, though, largely due to non-compliance and the continuation of dubious scientific-whaling practices.

Fin whale. Photo credit: NOAA

Fin whale. Photo credit: NOAA

It’s this same moratorium which Iceland is currently under fire for disobeying.  The US responded to the most recent surge of Iceland’s whaling by threats of diplomatic and trade sanctions.  After advisement from Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, President Obama has 60 days to approve such sanctions or take other action.  Iceland may respond to the threats before this time, as delaying could prove costlier than the restrictions the country is currently resisting.

Locke’s approaching the president on this issue followed pressure from environmental advocacy groups.  “Iceland’s disregard for the International Whaling Commission’s global moratorium on commercial whaling is unacceptable,” he said in a public statement.  So far, however, Iceland’s response has displayed surprise, and challenges the US’s accusations.  Iceland’s ministry of fisheries responded in a statement:  “Icelandic whaling is conducted on a sound scientific basis and there can be no doubt that it is sustainable,” referring to estimations that fin whales should not be counted as endangered in that region of the world.

The current dispute follows a long history of related ones, in which other members of the IWC have also been involved.  The US itself is most often accused of disobeying the 1986 moratorium by allowing indigenous Alaskan communities to continue whaling unregulated.  The controversy in Iceland is indicative of a larger spectrum of cooperation-related issues.


Copyright ©  2011 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

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