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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Defying a worldwide ban on trade in whale products, Iceland is openly selling whale meat packaged for export in the departure area at Keflavik airport to travelers who, if they make the purchase, risk stiff penalties on arrival at their home destination for importing an internationally protected species.
Representatives of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) recently purchased minke whale meat steaks at the "Inspired by Iceland" store in the departure lounge of Iceland's international airport in Keflavik, Iceland. The purchases took place on two separate occasions, one week apart, and in both cases staff at the airport store gave inaccurate information to purchasers.
The U.S. citizens were told erroneously by store staff that they could legally import the product into the United States. In fact, such citizens could face arrest and prosecution under several U.S. laws for illegal wildlife trade. Travelers returning with whale meat to the European Union or many other nations that comply with a ban on international trade in whale products would face similar penalties.
Last month President Obama responded to the advice of his Commerce Secretary that Iceland's commercial whaling and trade in whale products diminishes the effectiveness of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – the body that provides for the conservation of whale stocks and regulates whaling. He directed his administration to take a series of actions against Iceland under the U.S. "Pelly Amendment," but stopped short of economic measures while fin whaling remains suspended. Iceland's minke whaling season is still underway.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is currently reviewing a separate request under the Pelly Amendment, related to the export of more than 1,500 tons of whale products to Japan and other countries in recent years, and will make its own recommendations to the President concerning whether Iceland's actions diminish the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty that bans international commercial trade in whale products.
AWI and WDCS believe this new evidence of a blatant illegal trade in whale products compels the DOI to recommend that the President take even stronger action against Iceland. The groups are calling for trade sanctions against Iceland.
"For U.S. citizens to be told that minke whale meat could be legally imported into the United States was stunning considering U.S. laws protecting the species and prohibiting trade," said Susan Millward, Executive Director of AWI. "With this new evidence of airport whale meat sales, the Department of the Interior must surely conclude that Iceland is undermining the effectiveness of CITES."
"It is impossible that Iceland is unaware that U.S. law prohibits imports of whale meat," said Chris Butler-Stroud, CEO of WDCS. He went on to say, "Iceland is making a mockery of international law and it is time for President Obama to take the gloves off and to block the import of Icelandic products into the U.S. until Iceland ends its commercial whaling and trade for good."
WDCS has recently been running an awareness campaign directed at tourists visiting Iceland after revealing that a staggering 35–40% of the meat from minke whales slaughtered by Icelandic whalers is eaten by tourists visiting the country, most of whom have no idea that their actions are propping up commercial whaling in Iceland.