Obama Opts for Alternatives to Economic Sanctions on Icelandic Whaling

Written by on September 16, 2011 in Policy & Ocean Law


Fin whale. Photo credit: NOAA

By Henry Workman
Marine Science Today Writer

In a message to Congress on Thursday President Obama announced:  “I am not directing the Secretary of the Treasury to impose trade measures on Icelandic products for the whaling activities that led to the certification by the Secretary of Commerce.”  This was in response to a deadline to impose trade sanctions against Iceland set in July.  Although the nation’s whaling activities have continued despite the threat of economic retaliation, the US President waived the provision of a law called the Pelly Amendment that subjects violators of a global moratorium on whaling to trade sanctions.

The moratorium, in place since 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), has been an ongoing source of international friction in the clash between longstanding whaling practices and the effort to preserve endangered species.  This is due in part to what some call an ineffectual, loophole-riddled approach to its enforcement.  Although Iceland and Norway are the only two nations to openly practice commercial whaling, some members of the IWC, including the US and in particular Japan, have experienced accusations of defying the measure.  Iceland’s stance on the issue maintains that fin whale numbers can support a certain amount of hunting in the region where their whaling has been taking place, even though this doesn’t appear to be supported by scientific evidence.

Following a pressure campaign by environmental organizations to crack down on Iceland’s recent increase in whaling, US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke certified Iceland under the Pelly Amendment 2 months ago.  Obama was given 60 days in which to decide what action to take against the practices, and it was hoped that the Icelandic government would enact measures to address the objection within that period.   Since that time, Iceland has been unyielding in its position and recently exported a large amount of fin whale meat to Japan.

ccording to the President:  “Iceland’s increased commercial whaling and recent trade in whale products diminish the effectiveness of the (International Whaling Commission) conservation program.”  In spite of this, his decision was to postpone more aggressive steps to enforce the moratorium in favor of a more diplomatic approach.  Direction was given to US government officials to discuss raising the issue with the government in Reykjavík.  The State Department and Commerce Department are currently under orders to monitor Iceland’s whaling activity.

Iceland killed about 150 fin whales and about 80 minke whales last year, compared with over 1,000 hunted by the Japanese for “scientific research.”  The current pressure on Iceland to phase out its whaling industry is seen as significant because, compared to Japan and Norway, Iceland may be more willing to cooperate or compromise with international conservation efforts.  However, if the industry continues hereon as it has since 2006, there is a chance that further action will be taken on the part of the United States.

Also see:  Whaling Policy a Source of Conflict between Iceland, US and Endangered Fin Whale Products Exported from Iceland


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

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