Iceland's domestic market for whale meat is small; it exports most of the whale meat and blubber to Japan, defying another international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), that bans international commercial trade in whale products.
There are direct links between Iceland's whaling industry and powerful elements of Iceland's fishing industry. Fish sourced from whaling-linked companies in Iceland is imported into the United States both directly and through third-party sources.
In Europe, conservation and animal protection NGOs have been encouraging the public not to buy fish from whalers, putting pressure on fish suppliers and retailers to ensure they do not source from Icelandic companies linked to whaling. We are now extending this campaign to the United States.
Which Icelandic companies are tied to whaling?
The Hvalur hf company has killed 414 endangered fin whales since 2006 and shipped nearly 3,000 metric tons of fin whale meat, blubber and other products to Japan. In addition to being used in sushi or soups, some of the meat from this magnificent—and endangered—species is used as dog treats.
Individuals and companies that are invested in several Hvalur Group subsidiaries control the majority of shares in HB Grandi, Iceland's leading seafood company. In addition, individuals that manage Hvalur Group companies are also key players in HB Grandi's corporate leadership. Kristján Loftsson, who partly owns and manages Hvalur is the chairman of the board of HB Grandi.
The core of the Hvalur Group is made up of Hvalur hf, Fiskhlutfelagið Venus, Vogun, Vænting, HB Grandi, and Hampiðjan. Each of these companies have several subsidiaries. Several Hvalur Group companies export seafood and other products to the United States.
HB Grandi: key to Iceland's fin whaling
HB Grandi, the largest seafood company in Iceland, holds 12% of the country's fishing quotas, including for redfish, cod, Greenland halibut, haddock, saithe, mackerel and herring. It owns numerous vessels and operates several fish processing plants at which it also produces fish meal and fish oil.
Fin whale meat is transported by truck from the Hvalur whaling station to Akranes, where it is cut, packaged, boxed and made ready for export in HB Grandi facilities. Hvalur most recently exported whale products in January 2014, to Japan via Canada.
Iceland Seafood International (ISI), High Liner Foods and Sysco
While many of the companies importing from the Hvalur Group are not household names, there are a few companies that are well known. For example, while not a member of the Hvalur Group, Iceland Seafood International (ISI) has admitted to purchasing seafood from HB Grandi. High Liner Foods, one of the largest seafood companies in North America, began to import frozen fish from HB Grandi into the United States in October of 2013.
High Liner Foods is also a known supplier to Sysco, the food service giant, as is Marky's, a company that has imported fish roes from Vignir G. Jónsson, a wholly-owned subsidiary of HB Grandi.
What you can do
If you buy seafood, ask your local supermarket, big-box store, wholesale club or restaurant to verify that their seafood products do not come from a source linked to Icelandic whaling. Refer them to this website if they have questions. If they cannot guarantee to you that they are not "whaling free," hold off buying from them until they can. Consider writing to a company's customer service department and ask them for assurances that their product is not linked to Iceland's whale hunt. You can find a list of seafood retailers' websites here.
Both the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior have declared that Iceland is diminishing the effectiveness of the international bans on whaling and trade in whale products.
Under a law known as the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act, President Obama can now impose economic measures against Iceland including trade sanctions against companies linked to whaling. But more pressure is needed to convince him.
What You Can Do to Help
Send a message to President Obama urging him to impose trade sanctions and other measures against Iceland: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
Write to Iceland's ambassador to the United States, politely expressing your opposition to Iceland's whaling policy: Ambassador Gudmundur Stefansson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: Embassy of Iceland, Washington D.C., House of Sweden, 2900 K Street N.W. #509, Washington DC 20007-1704
Write your letter!
A number of animal welfare and conservation groups have partnered to present this information. All are members of the WhalesNeedUS coalition of US non-governmental organizations working to end the commercial slaughter of whales.