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Iceland Moves to Reduce Marine Bycatch in Light of New US Import Regulations

Icelandic regulators are making moves to conform to new regulations of seafood imports in the United States, according to the latest information from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries.

In an effort to promote more sustainable fishing practices among exporting nations, the US has announced the introduction of new regulations which limit the acceptable amount of marine bycatch produced by fishing. Originally announced in 2016 with a 5-year grace period for nations to conform to the new regulations, the implementation has been delayed in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Icelandic fisheries extra time to meet the new rules.

Especially important in the Icelandic context is the amount of seabirds and seals affected by lumpfish fishing, a fishery traditionally for small boat fishermen. Some Icelanders have expressed concerns that the new regulations will disproportionately affect small-scale rural fishermen, who are already suffering economically.

Read more: US Extends Deadline for Marine Mammal Bycatch Regulations

According to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Iceland has already launched measures in response to the new US regulations.

Increased monitoring is being implemented, using ship logs, drones, and geospatial modelling to better understand the distribution of bycatch.

In response to the poor state of the seal population in Iceland, the direct hunting of seals has been banned. It is now forbidden to shoot seals to scare them away from fish farms, for instance.

Other methods are also being investigated to reduce bycatch, such as the use of sound repellents on fishing gear.

By both increasing the monitoring of wild fishing stocks, and also increasingly monitoring registered bycatch, Icelandic authorities hope to gain a fuller picture of their success in implementing these changes.

Read more: Can Iceland Save its Seals Without Hurting its Fishermen?

Another concern is that the relatively higher bycatch of smaller fisheries, such as lumpfish, could adversely affect the status of larger, more lucrative fisheries, such as cod. According to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, while it is certain that seafood from fisheries with bycatch in excess of US guidelines will be prevented from entering the market, there is as of yet no final word on how seafood from other fisheries will be handled. It is also as of yet unclear whether the steps taken by Icelandic authorities will be considered sufficient to meet the US conditions.

The US regulations, after a delay, are now slated to come into effect on January 1, 2024.



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