Distinguished Honorary Consuls
We used to say about our independence hero, Jón Sigurðsson that he was Iceland´s ”pride, sword and shield”. The same can be said of you as you are guarding, defending and promoting Iceland´s interests around the world. That is not always an easy task and now our country is being seriously criticized. We are being accused of serious environmental mischief even environmental crimes. The accusations pertain to permitting the hunting of whales “without regard for the long term interests of cetacean conservation“ and that our claims for sustainable harvesting is lacking “an adequate scientific foundation“. Moreover, that Iceland´s international trade in whale products “ diminishes the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)“.
These quotes are not from the usual suspects, i.e. extreme environmental NGOs such as Sea Shepherd or Greenpeace. They are taken from a letter sent earlier this year by the president of the United States of America to the US Congress. Subsequently another letter with similar allegations, signed by 34 countries, was received, pleading with Iceland to start acting responsibly in these matters. Can 34 countries be wrong? The answer is yes they can. And I tell you they are wrong.
Before I answer that question let me make the following statement:
Iceland is not harvesting any animal population that is threatened or in danger of extinction. Icelandic whaling has a sound scientific basis. Iceland´s international trade in whale products is in accordance with Iceland´s international legal obligations.
So, you might ask, what is going on why don't you explain your case? The answer is: Of course we have. Repeatedly. For years. But to no avail. We are in the classic situation, actually not for the first time, that we are being bullied.
I will try to explain.
When the environmental movement came about decades ago it did very good things. It made us rethink the way we treat nature and the way we manage large scale resources such as wild animal populations and forests.
Internationally we have made “agreement after agreement, convention after convention“ to negotiate the Rules of the Game. All with the purpose of making clear and predictable rules on how to harvest the oceans in a responsible and sustainable way.
As for Iceland, the principle of sustainable use of marine resources has always been a key issue. We played a pivotal role in shaping the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and in securing the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). We have been active participants in forging FAO agreements such as the Fish Stocks Agreement, the Compliance Agreement, Port State Agreements to name only a few. In 2001 Iceland hosted and funded the FAO Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem. And now we have developed an environmental label, Iceland Responsible Fisheries to prove beyond doubt our adherence to responsible and sustainable fisheries.
And yes, Iceland is one of the signatories to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling from 1946.
But as much good as the environmental movement has done over the years, it has also spawned ideas and activism that is all about emotions rather than cold logic or science.
Many environmental groups decided early on to make whales an icon for a better planet, or even for saving the planet. They passionately advocate for the idea that whales should be fully protected globally. And of course there is nothing wrong with that.
What is wrong is that this idea has been promoted on the premise that these animals are threatened or endangered. That however is an old story that is systematically being reprocessed and marketed.
You do not have to be a scientist to see that taking 154 animals from a population of 20 thousand is not going to do any harm as is the case for the northern fin whale population. That count of 20 thousand has been confirmed by the Scientific Committees of the International Whaling Commission and the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO).
Yet, the word is being spread around the world that this quota of 154 animals is endangering the global population of fin whales. It is true that other populations of this whale species in the southern hemisphere is endangered but not the one in our part of the world. And there is no mixing of these two populations as shown by the fact that they have recently been classified as special subspecies. This is actually only one of many examples how well established scientific facts are being twisted and distorted to serve perceived environmental goals.
As I said before, it is perfectly acceptable and legitimate for free citizens in democratic societies to advocate for a global ban on hunting whales - or any other animal for that matter. Or to promote vegetarianism. Or not to consume beef. Or not to consume pork or dog meat. What is not acceptable is to allow special advocacy groups to force their opinions upon others.
The whaling issue is not only about whales. It is about the meaning of binding agreements signed by sovereign governments. It is about how seriously countries take the fact that these agreements are to be based on Science. That, for example, applies to the Whaling Convention, the Convention to Prevent Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS) of the World Trade Organization. The scientific approach, also called the Evidence Based Approach, is the guiding principle that we have agreed upon. We do not base these agreements on opinions or wishful thinking but on hard data, scientific analysis and sound reasoning. However dull that may sound!
So, I am saying that we Icelanders are being judged wrongly, by systematic misinterpretation of the scientific evidence and by political interference of the scientific processes within the International Whaling Commission.
We need assurances that the Agreements we work hard for and adopt in good faith have sound backing of all parties to those agreements. We need adherence to and respect for the principles on which we base such agreements. Not to give in to the temptation of twisting or fabricating evidence for political populism nationally or internationally.
Iceland is not going to go alone “against the whole world” in pursuing our hard won and fully legitimate rights to make use of living marine resources. However, we will not be bullied with false and twisted information.
I do hope that the spirit of freedom and tolerance for individual food choices and tastes will prevail in international relations. Experience through the ages shows how easy it is to create mischief and intolerance. The best antidote against that are agreements based on verifiable principles- and good faith.
So, let me repeat what I said before: Iceland is respecting all her international obligations with regard to sustainable use of living marine resources. And we intend to keep it that way.
Thank you for your attention.