Coastal Fishermen Unhappy With Reduced Cod Quota

overfishing iceland

Small boat fishermen in Iceland are unhappy with the government’s decision to reduce their cod fishing quota from 10,000 tonnes down to 8,500 for the coming summer season, Vísir reports. Arthúr Bogason, chairman of the National Union of Small Boat Owners (Landssamband smábátaeigenda) says the government has not provided any data to support the decision and hopes it will be reconsidered. A meeting with Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir on the matter was inconclusive.

Arthúr says he does not know whether the decision to reduce the quota was made in the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture or by the Directorate of Fisheries (Fiskistofa) but the union is working to find out. However, since the decision was made on December 21, the phone at the union office has not stopped ringing. He adds that the Left-Green Movement, the party to which Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir belongs, has supported coastal fishermen in the past and worked to improve their conditions. The decision comes across as change of direction from the party. Arthúr brought up the issue in a meeting with Svandís one week ago. He stated that although the discussion went well and the union expects fruitful collaboration with the incoming minister.

Last year a total of 670 fishermen held coastal fishing licences. Coastal fishing is not an easy job, according to Arthúr, but the number of fishermen in the field has remained relatively steady since 2009, when the current regulations governing coastal fishing were implemented. The regulations permit all fishermen to fish in coastal waters provided they fulfill certain requirements, which Arthúr describes as extensive. “Certain politicians predicted [coastal fishing] would explode. That thousands would sign up and it was best avoided.” However, since the current system was implemented, the number of fishermen has fluctuated between 600 and 726, according to Arthúr. “While handline fishing is romantic, there’s a lot of hard work and sweat and tears mixed in with the romance,” he stated.

Icelandic Business Executives Resign Following Sexual Assault Allegations

vitalia lazareva eigin konur

Several prominent businessmen and a famous media personality have been let go, resigned from their positions, or gone on leave following allegations of sexual assault from a young woman, RÚV reports. In an interview on the podcast Eigin konur last January 4, 24-year-old Vitalia Lazareva stated she was sexually assaulted by three men in a hot tub last December 2020, friends of her lover at the time, Arnar Grant.

While Vitalia did not name the men in the interview, she did so on social media. They include Þórður Már Jóhannesson, who has since resigned from his position as chairman of the board of Festi hf., Iceland’s fourth-largest company. Another of the men, Ari Edwald, was first asked to take leave, but was later fired from his position as CEO of Ísey Export, a daughter company of MS Iceland Dairies. Company representatives stated they had “unspecific” information about Ari’s involvement in the alleged incident since October 2021. He was not asked to take leave or fired until after Vitalia’s January 4 interview.

Hreggviður Jónsson, founder and primary owner of Veritas Capital ehf., resigned from the company’s board after being named in the allegations. In a statement sent to Icelandic media, Hreggviður wrote he regretted “not stepping out of the situation” but added that he did not break any laws. Þórður Már and Ari Edwald have not commented on the allegations.

In a separate incident that Vitalia described in the interview, Arnar pressured her to perform sexual acts with Icelandic media personality Logi Bergmann after he walked in on the pair together. Logi has denied the accusations in a Facebook post though he admitted to “going into a room I shouldn’t have gone into,” calling his actions “tactless and shameful.” He has also announced he would go on leave from his position.

Case could impact future generations

Professor of Sociology Ingólfur V. Gíslason says Vitalia’s case is among the most important to have occurred in Iceland in the past several decades when it comes to the status of men and women. Ingólfur says the MeToo movement has caused societal changes in Iceland. “The follow-up of what just happened there and that all of the perpetrators, or those who were indicated, have to step down. That is very significant. These are not just some unknown men who are accused,” he stated. According to Ingólfur, survivors who speak out are not looking for revenge, rather acknowledgement and apologies. 

He added that he hopes the incident will impact future generations in Iceland. “The most serious problem in the relationship and status of men and women in Iceland is the violence that women have had to suffer at the hands of men. It’s not until we stop that and make society as safe for women as for men that we can truly hope there will be equality in Iceland.”

Icelandic Police Department Deactivates Facebook Page Over Data Safety Concerns

police car

The Suðurnes Police Department in Southwest Iceland deactivated its Facebook page yesterday, citing comments from Iceland’s Data Protection Authority about data security on the social media platform, RÚV reports. The Reykjavík Capital Area Police Department says it will keep its Facebook page running and that it ensures data security through other means. Facebook’s collection and storage of data does not conform to Icelandic law, according to the DPA.

In March 2021, the Data Protection Authority came to the conclusion that the Capital Area Police’s reception of information via Facebook did not meet legal requirements on the processing of personal data for the purpose of law enforcement. DPA Director Helga Þórisdóttir stated the institution’s comments were particularly aimed at instances when police requested information from the public via Facebook’s messaging function. Facebook’s terms of use clearly state that data sent through the platform is collected. Icelandic law bans the storage of such information outside the European Economic Area, Helga points out.

The Suðurnes Police Department deactivated its Facebook page yesterday, ten months after the Data Protection Authority’s conclusion. It is the only department to act on the comments thus far. Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir, Chief Superintendent of Capital Area Police, says the department does not plan on deactivating its Facebook page. “We consider it an important tool in communication with citizens. We took the Data Protection Authority’s decision seriously at the time and changed our work processes,” Halla stated, adding that the police use Facebook cautiously, including by requesting information through secure means, such as by phone.

COVID-19 Information Briefing: National Hospital Facing Its Biggest Challenge Yet

Þórólfur Guðnason Chief Epidemiologist

Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 11 AM on the COVID-19 situation in Iceland following the ongoing surge in infections. On the panel were familiar faces: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson. During the briefing, the team urged the nation to lay low, stay at home as much as possible to reduce the daily number of infections. All of Iceland’s healthcare system is now in a state of emergency with all institutions, hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes operating according to contingency plans. Þóróflur urged everyone to get vaccinated and boosted if they can but noted that if they don’t manage to get the daily number of infections down, he might have to suggest tightening restrictions after the weekend.

Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Jan. 11:
Domestic cases: 1,135
Border cases: 60
Total active cases: 10,033 ⬇️
Hospitalised: 47 (7 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 3,974 ⬆
Fully vaccinated: 77% of population
Booster shots: 45% of population
The information briefing went as follows:

Víðir starts the briefing by discussing the healthcare system which is now on emergency alert as a whole. All institutions in the healthcare system are operating according to contingency plans, including hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.

A unified government supports infection prevention action

The government is unified in the action taken to curb infections and in their support for the healthcare system. We’re not the only ones in this situation, in the countries around us, they’re facing the same situation. Víðir states that no healthcare system in the world is prepared to fight a healthcare issue at this level and reminds people not to blame the national hospital or Iceland’s healthcare system for the situation, it’s the virus that’s the problem.

Þórólfur goes over the numbers

Þórólfur takes over and goes over the day’s numbers. For the past few days, the pandemic has been growing linearly, with the number of active cases rising each day. Yesterday, 1135 people were diagnosed yesterday, 26% of which were children under the age of 12. In the wake of the increase in societal transmission, 2-7 people have been hospitalised each day. Omicron variant is dominant in Iceland, 90% of all diagnoses but the delta variant is still here, with around 100 new cases each day. The rate of hospitalisations with delta is quite high, at 0.5% but omicron hospitalisations are rarer, at a rate of 0.2-0.3%.

The forecast suggests a rise in hospitalisations

The University of Iceland’s forecast model points to new daily cases remaining at around 1000 per day for the rest of the month, perhaps with 70 people hospitalised or more. The situation in the healthcare system is quite bad at the moment and it looks like it’s only going to get worse in the coming weeks. The current objective is to get the rate of daily new cases down to 500 for the healthcare system to be able to manage the load.

Þórófur urges people to get vaccinated and boosted

It’s important to reduce the number of daily cases and to make sure all eligible people get vaccinated and boosted. Early data indicates that the efficacy of children’s vaccinations is the same if not better than for adults. For adults, the vaccine is not as effective in reducing infections, although it has proven very effective in reducing the rate of serious illness.

Contracting COVID-19 worse than getting vaccinated

As for the discussion of the effect of COVID on children, the rate of serious effects from covid is much higher than the rate of serious side effects of the vaccine. Þórólfur states that all arguments point to the benefits of vaccinating children.

At the moment, the outlook is not good but for the coming weeks and months, the outlook is better. With the high rate of infections, it’s becoming clear that we can tolerate a certain number of covid infections and still keep society running.

National Hospital facing its biggest challenge yet

Alma takes over, stating that the national hospital is facing its biggest challenge yet. The situation is dire, with many of the hospital’s staff in quarantine or isolation.

Nine people were hospitalised with covid yesterday, four for issues relating directly to their covid diagnosis. At the moment, 11 people in hospital with covid were hospitalised for other issues but still require covid-level care.

Increased strain on healthcare institutions, clinics, and nursing homes. Staff in welfare services are also under a great deal of strain due to quarantines and isolations and Alma urges qualified staff to sign up for the reserve forces list.

People are moved within the hospital, staff from private clinic Klíníkin are arriving at the hospital to aid the national hospital staff as well as nurses from the Akureyri hospital. The hospital has been forced to postpone surgeries that can wait and other services.

Alma goes over solutions already in place within the system, such as new nursing home beds, rehabilitation beds, daycare, increased home services, increased automation, and digital solutions.

Alma encourages everyone to show healthcare staff the support they can by showing respect and doing what they can to reduce infections, as well as getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible.

The panel is now open for questions.

Þórólfur is asked in light of his memorandum outlining the seriousness of the situation, why he didn’t suggest tightening restrictions. He states that his memorandum was intended to reiterate how serious the situation was to the government but if daily infection numbers won’t turn around, he will have to suggest tighter restrictions.

Alma is asked why the challenge is bigger this time around. She states that it’s partly the higher number of infections than ever before, as well as more staff in quarantine and isolation but also the long-term effect of the pandemic, pandemic fatigue. She notes that during the first wave of the pandemic, society as a whole slowed down and there were fewer hospitalisations for other reasons. That’s not the situation this time around and strain from the hospital’s other tasks adds to the pressure.

When asked if it was a mistake not to postpone schools reopening after Christmas, Alma states that healthcare authorities respect the government’s wish that schools remain open and realise its importance for society as a whole but it might have been better to postpone schools reopening after Christmas break. Þórólfur agrees, reminding people that he suggested Schools not resume until January 10.

When asked if he regretted the government’s decisions and if he was giving them too much power over infection prevention, Þórólfur states that he is not worried about the government’s choices in infection prevention. Their cooperation remains close as it has been throughout the pandemic, with Þórólfur making suggestions for restrictions he believes are wise based on the situation, and the government acting on them.

Þórólfur is again asked about restrictions remaining the same. He repeats that he might have to turn in suggestions for tighter restrictions after the weekend.

Þórólfur states that the worry is not just the delta infections, hospitalisations with omicron variant are increasing. When the virus is so widespread, hospitalisation will increase.

Þórólfur is asked about people trying to get the virus to “get it over with” Þórólfur states that it’s a very bad idea, increasing the risk of societal spread and keeping the number of daily infections up, increasing the risk of hospitalisations with added strain on the national hospital.

Þórólfur is asked about Jansen vaccinated people. He states that soon after they started administering the Jansen vaccine, despite the one-dose promise, they decided to treat it as one dose of Pfizer or other vaccines, offering them a second shot and now a booster. So they are not being discriminated against.

Þóóflur is asked about antibody tests. At the moment, authorities are not accepting antibody tests as valid COVID-19 infections.

When delta was raging, there were very few reinfections. They’ve increased with omicron and they’re now in the hundreds, although that’s not much compared to how many people have had the virus. Triple infections are very rare.

Þórólfur is asked when the pandemic ends. He replies that he doesn’t know when it will end but he expects that without new variants or anything unexpected happening, Þórólfur expects that in a few weeks or months, we will have reached enough herd immunity to relax restrictions.

It’s not likely that we will get another wave of omicron infections but new variants can always appear.

Alma is asked about early treatment for covid-19, vitamins, and the theory that ivermectin helps against illness. She states that healthcare authorities follow all covid-related research published in scientific journals, but that no reliable science recommends the use of ivermectin. Recommends reading material on the drug on the University of Iceland’s Vísindavefurinn. She notes that people should make sure they get all the vitamins they need, such as vitamin d supplements, no matter if they have COVID-1 or not. There are some new viral medications that the hospital has access to and is using according to recommendations based on thorough scientific research.

Þórólfur is asked if unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 will also have different quarantine requirements as the triple vaccinated. Þórólfur replies that people who have contracted COVID-19 and have had two shots of the vaccine can follow the relaxed quarantine regulations but others will have to quarantine like before.

Víðir closes the meeting by repeating the goal of the restrictions, to protect the healthcare system, reduce the number of daily infections. He states that there are some milestones authorities are looking towards, the first one being to reduce the number of infections to fewer than 500, which would likely get hospitalisations below one per day.

He notes that people are probably tired of hearing him repeat himself but urges people to remember how far we’ve come. It might get darker before the dawn but as the Icelandic proverb goes (loosely translated), there’s an end to all storms.

Take care and be kind to one another.