In a recent announcement, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has extended the deadline for the implementation of regulations governing the import of seafood to the US.
Aimed at protecting endangered species and limiting the amount of unnecessary bycatch (what is unintentionally caught by net fishing, which can include seabirds, other species of fish, seals, dolphins, and even small whales), the regulations aim to limit the import of marine products from fisheries where marine mammals are caught. This has potentially large consequences for Iceland, the US being a major export market for Icelandic seafood.
The regulations were originally introduced in 2016 and gave exporting nations a 5-year period to comply with the new US regulations. However, this grace period was extended by a year, and then further delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, Iceland lost its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2018 due to the large number of bycatch produced by Icelandic lumpfish fishing. Lumpfish generally stick near the shore and are thus safe from larger trawlers. This fish, prized for its roe, is still fished in small boats with nets. However, net fishing also produces large amounts of unwanted bycatch.
Although Iceland has taken steps in recent years to minimizing the environmental impact of net fishing, it is a complicated situation for Icelandic fishermen, as it is generally the small boat fishermen who will be under the most pressure from the current regulations.
Iceland’s small boat fishermen have already been sidelined in many ways by the current quota system. Although the bycatch problem is indeed important, it leaves some wondering if the burden of environmental responsibility is being placed excessively on small, independent fishermen.