WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. officials and delegations to confront their Icelandic counterparts over that country’s killing of 273 endangered fin whales in 2009 and 2010, in defiance of an International Whaling Commission moratorium.
The president’s order, in a memorandum to the cabinet, came just a week after a meeting between officials from the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and the U.S. Department of State to discuss Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke’s certification that Iceland’s commercial whaling and international trade in fin whale products is diminishing the effectiveness of the commission, and urged the Icelandic government to cease permitting commercial whaling.
“Iceland’s disregard for the International Whaling Commission’s global moratorium on commercial whaling is unacceptable,” Locke said in a letter to the president. “Iceland’s harvest of whales and export of fin whale meat threaten an endangered species and undermine worldwide efforts to protect whales. It’s critical that the Government of Iceland take immediate action to comply with the moratorium.”
Under the Pelly Amendment to the U.S. Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967, the Secretary of Commerce must notify the president when “nationals of a foreign country . . . are conducting fishing operations in a manner or under circumstances which diminish the effectiveness of an international fishery conservation program,” and must make recommendations on how to rectify the situation.
Obama adopted all of the recommendations Secretary Locke made in his certification, including asking the members of his cabinet to make any plans they have to visit Iceland contingent on the ongoing de facto suspension of fin whaling. The president also ordered the State Department to make U.S. cooperation with Iceland on other areas of concern in the Arctic region contingent on adherence to the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling.
Obama also ordered the Departments of Commerce and State to start diplomatic consultations with other countries on efforts to end Icelandic commercial whaling and have Iceland abide by the commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling.
Under the Pelly Amendment, Obama could have initiated trade sanctions on Icelandic fish products, but Secretary Locke did not recommend it.
Iceland protested, apparently to no avail, in its meeting at the State Department, that there was no legal basis for Locke’s certification and thus to the diplomatic measures he recommended, because its whale harvesting complies with the letter of the commission’s rulings.
In a press release issued between the meeting and Obama’s order, Jon Bjarnason, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, expressed surprise and disappointment over the Pelly Amendment certification of Iceland. “The U.S. authorities are not consistent when they criticize Iceland for its fin whale hunting on the one hand and ask for the support of Iceland and other member states of the International Whaling Commission for their bowhead quota off Alaska on the other hand. Scientific information clearly shows that the Icelandic fin whale hunting is no less sustainable than the U.S. bowhead whaling,” he said.
Bjarnason implied that Iceland might apply diplomatic counter-pressure saying, “It should be noted that the five-year U.S. bowhead quota is subject to approval by a 3/4 majority of member countries of the International Whaling Commission at its Annual Meeting in Panama in 2012.”
While Iceland has not killed any fin whales in 2011, it has issued a whale quota for the 2011 season and has continued to harvest minke whales. Iceland’s not killing the fin whales has largely been attributed to the collapse of the global whale meat market following the tsunami in Japan, which is one of the largest importers of whale meat in the world.