Until the past weeks, herring, once one of Iceland’s most profitable and abundant fish stocks, had not been seen close to Iceland’s shores for almost forty years.
The herring stock straddles Icelandic and Norwegian waters. Until the late sixties, herring often migrated in great numbers quite close to Iceland, even into the fjords. After 1967, herring has not been seen except in reduced numbers in deep waters well to the north.
In the past few days, however, boats have been loading up on herring as close as 50 miles east of Neskaupstaður on the eastern coast. If caught close to land, herring can be processed for human consumption and commands a higher price then when processed for fishmeal.
The cause of the collapse of the herring stock has been the subject of much speculation and debate in Iceland. Some have attributed it to overfishing, others have blamed changing conditions in the sea.
More than a few Icelanders still fondly remember the excitement that pervaded the small fishing towns in the North and the East during peak herring season. Part Klondike, part carnival, some of the towns never recovered after the herring disappeared.
Former director of the Marine Research Institute Jakob Jakobsson calls the return of the of the herring “big news”. Many of his generation will surely agree.