President Obama and his administration are considering a bold move to save whales by imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iceland because of its increase in commercial whaling.
The announcement came one week after the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission fell apart over dissension among the pro-whaling countries and other member nations.
The Associated Press reported the Obama administration could use a “domestic law that allows the president to act against foreign nationals or countries who flout international animal conservation rules.”
Iceland, Norway and Japan are the only countries that ignore the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling and continue to hunt the animals.
Iceland in particular has stepped up its efforts to hunt fin whales in order to promote the whale meat industry. Wildlife activists are concerned that if whale meat becomes popular, other countries may disregard the moratorium and dive into the business. They say that “whale stocks just haven’t recovered” enough for the species to survive.
According to the Associated Foreign Press, environmentalists convinced Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to enact the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act that could impose a whole variety of sanctions on Iceland.
“Iceland’s harvest of whales and export of fin whale meat threaten an endangered species and undermine worldwide efforts to protect whales,” Locke said in a statement. “It’s critical that the government of Iceland take immediate action to comply with the moratorium.”
Some of the sanctions the U.S. could impose on Iceland include halting diplomatic visits to the country by U.S. officials and dropping out of shared projects in the Arctic. The United States has recently increased its focus on the Arctic Ocean and climate change in the area. Locke could also recommend to President Obama that the country ask neighboring nations to boycott Iceland.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) applauded the U.S. for fighting on behalf of whales. The group said “Iceland has killed 280 fin whales since it resumed commercial whaling in 2006.”
This year the country has increased its quota of fin whales to 150 animals. This is three times what the scientific community considers “sustainable for the species.”
The Seattle PI reported that Iceland is stunned over the possible sanctions and claim the fin whale is not endangered in the North Atlantic.
“Icelandic whaling is conducted on a sound scientific basis and there can be no doubt that it is sustainable,” Iceland’s ministry of fisheries said in a statement. The minister also reported that Iceland’s whaling is “fully legal” and said its trade in whale products “conforms to international agreements.”
Environmentalists and 250,000 U.S. citizens have urged President Obama to move ahead with the sanctions. The administration has 60 days before it has to make a decision. Everyone involved in the controversy hopes Iceland will decide to adhere to the whaling ban on its own.
Photo from plassen via flickr.