Research vessel Árni Friðriksson and four other ships returned from a 12-day expedition last Saturday, having found little sign of capelin in Icelandic waters. Expedition leader Birkir Bárðarson told Vísir he had never seen so little of the fish as on this trip.
Though another expedition is scheduled in February, it appears unlikely that the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute will recommend a capelin fishing quota this coming season. That would make 2020 the second year in a row that a capelin shortage hits the country.
Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson stated that a shortage would “impact the national economy and businesses and the communities in which they operate.” Experts have pointed to rising ocean temperatures as a possible cause for the decline in capelin stocks around Iceland. Kristján stated that the Icelandic government has allocated additional funding toward more research on the species.
A capelin shortage would prove a hard hit to communities around the country that rely on the fishing industry. The municipality of Fjarðarbyggð in East Iceland, for example, received and processed 47% of Iceland’s capelin catch in 2018. A shortage would mean wage decline and fewer jobs that would not only affect fishing companies but the local economy as a whole.
The effects of a capelin shortage are likely to stretch into the coming years. The majority of capelin, or 90%, spawn at the age of three years old, while around 10% spawn at the age of four. The fish then dies after spawning. This means that low numbers one year will generally mean low stocks three years later as well.