Don't buy from Icelandic whalers
UPDATE: In June 2014, Iceland's whaling company Hvalur hf, led by Kristjan Loftsson, resumed its commercial hunt of fin whales—an endangered species. Two fin whaling boats are currently hunting in the North Atlantic, as are smaller minke whaling vessels. As of August 14, 2014, 20 minke whales and 80 fin whales have been killed.
By the 1980s, whale populations had been decimated by over-hunting. In response, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) imposed a ban on commercial whaling in 1982, which went into effect in 1986. Most countries complied with the ban, but Iceland returned to commercial whaling in 2006 and since then has killed 414 endangered fin whales and 430 minke whales (331 for commercial purposes and 99 for scientific "research"). In December 2013, the government of Iceland issued a new five-year quota for fins and minkes, under which it could slaughter nearly 2,000 whales.
Iceland's domestic market for whale products 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), which 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-parties.
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.
A dead fin whale, dragged onto the dock at the Hvalur hf whaling station in September, 2013. After being flensed, its meat was taken to HB Grandi in Akranes for further processing.
HB Grandi: key to Iceland's fin whaling
HB Grandi, the largest seafood company in Iceland, holds 12 percent 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 exported whale products to Japan via Canada in January 2014, and a massive shipment of 2,000 tons of whale products left Iceland on March 20, 2014, destined for Japan.
Iceland Seafood International (ISI), Sysco and UNFI
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.
Uoriki Fresh, has also purchased products from Vignir G. Jónsson and both Uoriki and Marky's have supplied Whole Foods Markets. United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), a major distributor of natural and organic foods, is known to buy from Legacy Seafoods a Rhode Island-based company that is supplied by HB Grandi.
Update: Good news! The coalition wants to thank High Liner Foods for publicly stating that the company is not supportive of any commercial whaling or trade in whale products. High Liner has also advised its senior officials that the company is not to enter into any new contracts with HB Grandi until it has fully divested its involvement and interest in whaling.
We also want to thank Trader Joe's for stating its opposition to commercial whaling and for undertaking the full supply chain audit of its seafood suppliers requested by the coalition.
What we've been doing
Our coalition has written to dozens of companies that have imported HB Grandi products into the United States, asking them to confirm that they oppose commercial whaling, and that they do not buy seafood from HB Grandi and its associated companies. For a full list of the letters sent, please click here.
In addition, coalition members have attended several seafood shows in the United States and Europe, raising our concerns about Icelandic whaling and HB Grandi's links to the Hvalur hf whaling company. We've taken out advertising on the Boston public transit system, and on telephone kiosks in New York city, to raise awareness of the issue.
Working with partner conservation organizations in Europe, we are also helping with their campaign that urges major seafood buyers to support efforts to stop Icelandic whaling.
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 the Icelandic seafood products are not "whaling free," hold off buying from them until they can. Consider writing to the 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.
UPDATE: On April 1, 2014, President Obama announced that Iceland's commercial whaling jeopardizes the survival of an endangered whale species listed by CITES as among the species most threatened with extinction. President Obama also said that Iceland's actions undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales, including the CITES treaty itself. Despite these findings, the President elected not to impose targeted trade sanctions against specific Iceland companies linked to whaling at this time.
THIS MAKES OUR CONSUMER-DRIVEN CAMPAIGN MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER!
What You Can Do to Help
We now ask that you write to Iceland's ambassador to the United States, politely expressing your opposition to Iceland's whaling policy: Ambassador Gudmundur Stefansson at email@example.com or by mail to: Embassy of Iceland, Washington D.C., House of Sweden, 2900 K Street N.W. #509, Washington DC 20007-1704.
In addition, please write to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson to express your views, as well: President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: Sóleyjargata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.
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.