US President Barack Obama renewed the call for Iceland to stop its commercial whaling operations Tuesday by directing US officials to continuing to pressure Iceland to conform to international standards, but the US will not impose trade sanctions against the Nordic nation.
In a memo issued to Congress, Obama detailed the international regulations that ban commercial whaling, noting that Iceland hunts fin whales to export to Japan at an increasing rate.
Iceland openly defies the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora's (CITES) and its prohibition on international commercial trade in whale products.
Last year, Iceland hunted 134 fin whales an annual harvest that is nearly triple what is considered biologically sustainable in the North Atlantic, Obama said.
The announcement comes after a series of previous addresses on Icelandic whaling.
US law requires the Cabinet to report to the President when it "determines that nationals of a foreign country are diminishing the effectiveness of an international fishery conservation program."
Following such a report, the president has 60 days to review it and decide whether to or not to impose economic measures, including trade sanctions.
In the memo to Congress, Obama outlined his directive to US officials, encourage them to raise objections to whaling when engaging with their Icelandic counterparts.
However, Obama said he is not directing the Secretary of the Treasury to impose trade measures on Icelandic products.
In 2011, President Obama faced a similar situation, but declined to enforce sanctions then as well. Instead he "directed federal agencies to undertake a number of diplomatic actions to encourage Iceland to change its whaling policy," according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Icelandic whaling controversy is centered around the whaling company Hvalur, which the USFWS reports is the only Icelandic company engaged in harvesting fin whales. After a market decline following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident in Japan, Hvalur resumed its fin whale hunts in 2013. Hvalur killed 134 fin whales last year, and Iceland (which determines its own catch quotas) recently announced new fin whale quotas which allow up to 770 to be killed in the next five years, according to the USFWS.
Norway openly defies the CITES ban as well. Japan also hunts whales, but says its actions are legal through a loophole in the CITES regulations that allows whales to be killed for scientific research. The International Court of Justice recently ruled that Japan's whaling activities in Antarctica are not done for scientific purposes and has ordered Japan to stop whaling in those waters. Japan, however, continues to hunt whales for what is says are scientific purposes in other parts of the world.
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