The United States expressed disappointment Wednesday over Iceland's decision to resume whaling for what Icelandic authorities say will be for scientific purposes. The State Department says the move will likely trigger a review of possible U.S. trade sanctions against Iceland.
In response to complaints from conservation groups and others, Iceland greatly reduced the scope of its whaling program from what it had initially contemplated earlier this year.
But Wednesday's announcement that Iceland would harvest more than 30 Minke whales for scientific research in the next two months none-the-less drew an expression of extreme disappointment from the United States, and a warning of possible U.S. sanctions.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States had urged Iceland in numerous venues in recent months to refrain from starting the program.
Mr. Reeker said that while whaling for nominal scientific purposes is allowed under the International Whaling Convention, the killing of whales is not necessary for research and he raised the prospect of sanctions under a provision of a 1967 U.S. law, the Fisherman's Protective Act.
"While Iceland's program is technically-legal under the whaling convention, the United States believes that the lethal research on whales they propose is not necessary, and the needed scientific data can be obtained by other well-established non-lethal means," Mr. Reeker said. "And the taking of whales will likely trigger a review of Iceland's lethal scientific whaling program for possible certification under the Pelly Amendment, which provides for a range of U.S. responses, including trade sanctions for activities violating international conservation agreements."
The Pelly Amendment cited by Mr. Reeker authorizes the president to bar the importation of products from countries engaged in ocean fishing or hunting programs that reduce the effectiveness of international endangered-species accords.
In recent years, the United States has also threatened sanctions against Japan for similar whale hunts for self-described scientific purposes, but penalties have been waived in favor of negotiations to reduce the Japanese whale harvest.
The planned whale harvest by Iceland would be its first in 14 years, and was defended by the country's fisheries minister, Arni Mathiesen, as an "undisputed right" of all member countries of the International Whaling Commission.
He said it is just as legal as whaling now conducted by other countries including Japan, Norway and the United States, a reference to the limited hunt by native people in the Arctic region of Alaska.
The decision drew domestic criticism from the Icelandic tourist industry, which warned that environmentally-minded visitors would cancel trips to the North Atlantic island country.