Four research expeditions have found capelin stocks in Icelandic waters to be in poor shape, RÚV reports. As a result, the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) will not permit fishing of the species this coming season. Capelin is the second most important export species of fish in Iceland after cod, and a lack of catch would impact not only fishing communities but also the country’s overall economy.
Capelin is a small fish of the smelt family, ecologically important as a food source for cod, seals, whales, and puffins, among other marine species. According to Landsbankinn bank, export value of capelin amounted to ISK 17.8 billion ($149m/€131m) in 2018, or roughly 0.6% of Iceland’s total GDP.
Environmental changes are a factor
Capelin has often stumped Icelandic fisherman due to its unpredictable migration patterns. Director of MFRI’s Pelagic Fisheries Division Þorsteinn Sigurðsson, however, says environmental changes are also a factor. “We have been linking this to these environmental changes that have been taking place over the past 20 years. Two to three thousand tonnes are considered just fine today. While we were fishing one and a half million tonnes 25 years ago,” Þorsteinn remarked. “This is not a good outlook but it should be noted that the forecast value of the data is not particularly good.”