The EU legislation prohibits the keeping, transport and sale or exchange of specimens of all whale species and other cetaceans taken from the wild and bans their introduction into the Union for primarily commercial purposes. It also contributes to improving the quality of the environment for whales and other cetaceans by promoting a good environmental status of the EU oceans and seas. However, due to the migratory character of whale populations, EU policy cannot be effective within EU waters if it is not backed by coherent worldwide action under a comparable international regulatory framework. That framework is provided by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). The competent body governing the implementation of the Convention is the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC regulates commercial, scientific research and aboriginal subsistence whaling. The EU is guided by its overarching objective, which is to ensure an effective international regulatory framework for the conservation and management of whales, guaranteeing a significant improvement in the conservation status of whales and bringing all whaling operations by IWC members under IWC control.
The European Union is committed to the highest welfare in animal standards. To ensure that hunting or trapping methods are as humane as possible both within the European Union and also internationally, the EU has adopted legislation on animal welfare. In 1991, an EU regulation was introduced - commonly known as the Leghold trap regulation - prohibiting the use of leghold traps within the European Union and the importing of goods and products made from animal species which originate from countries that use leghold traps or other trapping methods that do not meet international trapping standards.
In 1983, the first piece of legislation on trade in seal products was passed. The aim of this legislation was to prohibit products derived from certain seal pups (e.g. fur skins) to be imported into the European Union.
On 16 September 2009, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a Regulation aiming to ensure that products derived from seals are no longer found on the European market. The Regulation was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 31 October 2009. The Regulation foresees the possibility to grant a limited number of exemptions and derogations. Further detailed rules are specified in the implementing Regulation that the Commission adopted on 10 August 2010 (please see below for more information).