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New Recommendations for Fishing Industry Reform

Working groups for “Our Resource,” a policy proposal to reform the Icelandic fishing industry through increased transparency and oversight, have submitted preliminary proposals to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries.

The submitted proposals are in line with Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision last May to begin reforming the Icelandic fishing industry from both an environmental and economic perspective. Now, the preliminary results are in.

New Regulatory Framework for Fishing Industry

The preliminary proposals, reached in consultation with experts, business partners, and the general population, are numerous, with some 60 proposals requiring further deliberation.

Limiting Discarded Bycatch

A major concern recognised by the new policy proposals is the extent of discarded bycatch produced by the Icelandic fishing industry.

Since the beginning of drone monitoring of the Icelandic fishing fleet in 2021, discarded bycatch has been recorded in ca. 40% of fishing boats, according to Heimildin.

In order to prevent excessive waste, incentives are needed to ensure that more of the catch comes ashore, while also not encouraging fishermen to catch beyond their quota limits. Current regulations allow for small amounts of bycatch to be brought ashore and sold on the market, with profits split between the fishers and the state. However, the recommendations for “Our Resource” note that often the incentives are not high enough and that large amounts of bycatch are wasted because the cost of bringing it to shore is simply too high.

Preliminary recommendations include increasing the proportion of the bycatch profit for the fishermen, which currently sits at 20%, in addition to introducing a standardized and coordinated weighing system. To this day, the Icelandic fishing industry lacks a uniform method of weighing catch.

The 5.3% System

The new proposals also recommend changes for small boat fishermen, who have struggled financially in the last decades to compete with the larger fishing concerns in Iceland: the so-called “Sea Barons,” whose fleets own large portions of the fishing quota.

A controversial recommendation includes abolishing the “5.3% system,” in which 5.3% of the total catch quota for different species of fish is reserved for coastal and small boat fishers. This system has been a lifeline for small rural communities, as it guarantees small-time fishermen a minimum amount of catch. However, new policy recommendations would instead place emphasis on other ways of developing rural communities. The 5.3% system has also been identified as a roadblock to technological progress within the industry.

Some have critiqued this possible change. Örn Pálsson director of the National Association of Small Boat Owners, stated to RÚV: “I don’t seriously believe that they will carry it through. The 5.3% system was developed in response to some of the mergers that have occurred, and continue to occur, between the largest fishing enterprises in the nation, which have driven many rural fish processors out of business […] There’s no question that things would be harder without the 5.3% system.”

Gender Equality in the Fishing Industry

The preliminary recommendations for “Our Resource” also include reforms to the gender imbalance within the Icelandic fishing industry.

Fishing has historically been a male-dominated industry. To this day, some 10% of Icelandic fishing enterprises employ no women at all, reports Heimildin.

However, women have come to increased prominence in middle management, accounting, and executive positions.

Proposals would seek to keep the gender balance, legally binding in other sectors of the Icelandic economy, at no more than 60% of male, female or non-binary.

Final proposals for “Our Resource” are expected to be presented to parliament by the spring of 2024. The preliminary proposals for the new regulation can be read here.

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