New Minister to Amend Fish Farming Bill

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture and fisheries

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, the Left-Green Movement MP who recently became minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, has decided to amend a controversial bill on fish farming, RÚV reports.

The bill has already been submitted to Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, and would change the law on aquaculture operations and licenses. The most heavily criticised clause would grant indefinite licenses to fish farming companies. As it stands, the licenses run 16 years with an option to extend.

Public opinion and legal advice

Bjarkey said that she’d received advice from legal counsel that the bill’s aims would best be reached by granting indefinite licenses. “I’m hearing that the public opinion and my legal advice are not in harmony on this issue,” Bjarkey said. “The parliament and I need to take this into account.”

The bill has been criticised by singer Björk and other environmental activists and groups, as well as Kristrún Frostadóttir, the leader of the Social Democratic Alliance. Kristrún compared the bill to the controversial law from the 1990 that handed indefinite fishing quotas to established fisheries. “They’re acting like this is a technical, legal issue to gift these indefinite licenses,” Kristrún said.

Online petition against bill

An online petition has been started, urging MPs to reject the bill. “We the undersigned urge Alþingi to reject the government’s bill on fish farming that would grant indefinite licenses for use of our resource in Icelandic fjords without remuneration,” the petition’s mission statement reads. “The bill authorises polluting industrial production with fish farming in the most sensitive areas of Iceland’s coasts under little supervision and puts the interests of license holders first at the expense of the public interest and nature of the country.”

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Minister Won’t Comment on Whaling License

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture and fisheries

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, the new minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, will not comment on whether a whaling license will be issued this year, Morgunblaðið reports.

“I will not tell the press what I plan to do until I’ve made my decision,” she said this week. “And I don’t yet have all the necessary information that I need to make that decision.”

No hope of whaling, said CEO

As noted by Iceland Review last weekend, Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur, Iceland’s only whaling operation, said that there was “no hope of whaling this summer” as things stand. On January 30, the company applied for a whaling license after its previous one had expired. The ministry did not respond until the middle of March, when it requested clarification from Hvalur on whether the company followed certain laws and stipulations.

Hvalur’s response was submitted on March 21 and the company has not heard back from the ministry since. Kristján has said that Bjarkey’s party, the Left-Green Movement, was methodically trying to “destroy the industry”.

No time limit stipulated

Kristján said that Bjarkey’s ministry, which was headed by her Left-Green colleague Svandís Svavarsdóttir before a cabinet reshuffling earlier this month, was only open to granting a one-year license, which would effectively make it impossible for the industry to operate, in his opinion. He added that without a license in hand at this point in time, the company can’t start hiring people or buying supplies for this summer’s whaling season.

Bjarkey added that the matter is being handled in a proper ministerial process and that there’s nothing in the law on whaling that sets a time limit for processing licenses.

No Whaling This Summer

Hvalur, whaling company,

Update April 17: At the time of writing, the whaling license is still pending. Kristján Loftsson’s statement to the effect that whaling will not take place this summer is not to be perceived as their lack of intent to whale. Rather, his statements are a critique of government action. It is currently still undecided whether Iceland will resume whaling this summer. Iceland Review apologises for the misleading headline, but presents the original article below, unaltered.

Whales will not be hunted in Icelandic waters this summer, according to Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., Iceland’s only whaling operation. “As it stands right now, we have no hope of whaling this summer,” he told Morgunblaðið.

Opposition from the Left-Greens

The company applied to the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries for a whaling license on January 30. The ministry has not responded and a new minister was appointed last week, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement. Her fellow party member, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, had been the previous minister and was set to face a vote of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, for temporarily stopping whaling last summer. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that her decision to stop whaling on animal welfare grounds had not been in accordance with the law.

“It’s clear in my mind that the ministry under the leadership of the Left-Greens is disregarding the conclusion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and continues methodically on its mission of destroying this industry, even though it’s operating on legal grounds,” Kristján said. “When we don’t know if a license will be issued we can’t start hiring people and buying supplies, which is a necessary prerequisite for whaling.”

Controversial practice

Kristján added that the ministry had only been willing to issue a license for one year at a time and was asking the company to clarify if and how it adhered to certain stipulations in laws and regulations. The company has requested damages for the shortened whaling season of last summer.

Whaling remains a controversial practice in Iceland and is protested both domestically and abroad.

Uncertainty Over Whaling as Iceland Welcomes New Minister

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

A union leader has stated that it would be a “complete humiliation” if the Progressive and Independence Parties had failed to ensure the resumption of whaling amid the recent reshuffling of ministries. In 2019, the new Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries was outspoken in her opposition to the practice, emphasising sustainability and the potential risk to Iceland’s tourism industry.

A “complete humiliation” if whaling was not ensured

In an interview with Morgunblaðið, Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of the Akranes Labour Union (Verkalýðsfélag Akraness), has stated that it would be “a complete humiliation” for the Progressives and the Independence Party if it were revealed they had not secured the allowance of whaling to resume during the recent Ministry reshuffling following the PM’s resignation.

In the interview, Vilhjálmur expressed deep concerns that the new Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, would share the same stance as her predecessor, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, on the issue and deny Hvalur’s application for a renewed whaling licence.

Listen to an episode on Whaling in the Deep North podcast.

“According to my information, Hvalur submitted a request to the Ministry in January. It took the ministry one and a half months to respond, requesting various explanations. Hvalur replied before Easter and has yet to receive an answer on whether whaling will be permitted this summer or not,” Vilhjálmur stated.

He firmly believes that the Progressives and the Independence Party – who were “very vocal” when Svandís postponed whaling and expressed their support for the practice – had ensured that whaling would be allowed in the new government agreement. “If not, it would be a total humiliation for the Progressives and the Independence Party,” Vilhjálmur maintained.

As noted by Vísir, Jón Gunnarsson, a member of parliament for the Independence Party, is likewise confident that the new Minister will allow whaling. Bjarkey, however, declined to comment on the matter yesterday, other than stating she has yet to formally take over the Ministry and meet with its staff.

Unequivocal about her position in 2019

As noted in a separate article in Vísir, Bjarkey was unequivocal about her position on whaling during a parliamentary session in February 2019. At the time, Bjarkey stated that the decision by Kristján Þór Júlíusson, a member of parliament for the Independence Party and then the Minister of Fisheries, to continue allowing whaling had “disappointed her.”

“There is little to suggest that whaling will ever return to its former status in the economy, and even less chance that such activities will gain recognition from international environmental organisations,” Bjarkey observed.

“In my view, the fundamental premise for the utilisation of natural resources should be based on sustainability, as the government has repeatedly emphasised. As long as there are no foreseeable markets for whale meat, it can be assumed that the practice will not be sustainable … we should not risk endangering one of our most important industries, which is tourism; we cannot afford it,” Bjarkey is quoted as having stated in 2019.

Bjarni Returns as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, current minister of foreign affairs and leader of the centre-right Independence Party, will become prime minister in the reshuffled coalition government following the departure of Katrín Jakobsdóttir from the office, RÚV reports.

Katrín announced last week that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to campaign for the office of president, with presidential elections scheduled for June 1. This threw the future of her party’s coalition with the Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party into uncertainty. A parliamentary election is scheduled for September next year, but the opposition has called for a snap election in light of these developments.

Bjarni’s return following privatisation scandal

At a press conference in Harpa concert and conference hall today, Bjarni announced that he would become prime minister. Bjarni was previously prime minister during a short-lived coalition in 2017 and finance minister for most of the period from 2013 to 2023. He resigned as finance minister in October of last year after the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that his role in the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank, which had been nationalised after the 2008 banking collapse, had not confirmed to guidelines.

He became minister for foreign affairs instead, with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir becoming finance minister in his stead. Þórdís will now move back to the ministry for foreign affairs, where she served previously.

Embattled Svandís switches ministries

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, leader of the Progressive Party, will now become finance minister. Embattled Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who was set to face a motion of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this week, will become minister of infrastructure. In January, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that she had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily banned whale hunting last summer.

Her fellow Left-Green Movement MP, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, will take her place in the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries.

The changes will be formalised at a meeting of the cabinet with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at 7 PM tonight.

Welfare Committee Chair Calls for Regulation of Cosmetic Fillers

Injectables

The Chairperson of the Parliament’s Welfare Committee has formally inquired with Health Minister, Willum Þór Þórsson, about his plans to regulate the use of fillers and substances that dissolve them. Her concerns were prompted by an investigative report aired on Kompás this past Monday.

The “Wild West” of fillers

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, Chair of the Parliament’s Welfare Committee, expressed her concerns about the use of fillers, a topic recently highlighted by the investigative news programme Kompás. The programme described the unregulated use of fillers as the “Wild West,” interviewing an Icelandic woman who suffered life-threatening complications from a misinformed treatment.

As noted by Kompás, in Iceland, substances are being used illicitly for cosmetic procedures, and there’s no oversight of unqualified individuals who often operate under misleading job titles.

“Even though one might have noticed on the streets, young girls with rather broad and large lips, knowing that substances were obviously being injected, the extent of this ‘Wild West’ situation was surprising,” Bjarkey commented.

Seeking clarity on potential regulations

Bjarkey also revealed to Vísir that she has reached out to Health Minister, Willum Þór Þórsson, seeking clarity on potential regulations for these substances: “I’m keen to understand the oversight in terms of use and importation. It’s unclear if these substances can be sourced from foreign online platforms. I’m also wondering if the Director of Health has mechanisms to track this and if there are records of medical interventions related to these substances. This is a grave concern, and I believe we must act,” she stated.

Bjarkey hopes that the discussion won’t fade in the coming days now that it has started.

What are fillers?

As noted by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, dermal fillers are “gel-like substances that are injected beneath the skin to restore lost volume, smooth lines and soften creases, or enhance facial contours.”

Fillers, especially those made of hyaluronic acid (a naturally occurring substance in the body), can be dissolved using an enzyme called hyaluronidase.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the potential dangers of fillers include acne-like skin eruptions, asymmetry in the treated areas, bleeding from the injection site, bruising, damage to the skin leading to wounds and possible scarring, infection at the injection site, formation of lumps, the filler being felt under the skin, skin necrosis which involves ulceration or loss of skin due to disrupted blood flow, itchy skin rashes, skin redness, swelling, and the under- or over-correction of wrinkles.

“In very rare cases, the filler may accidentally be injected into your blood vessels instead of under your skin. This can block blood flow. What happens if your blood flow is blocked will vary depending on where the block is. If your skin is affected, you might have skin loss or wounds. If your eye is affected, you might lose your eyesight or go blind.”

Minister Unauthorised to Sell Surveillance Aircraft, MP Says

TF-SIF

There is no authorisation in the state budget for the sale of TF-SIF, the Coast Guard’s surveillance aircraft, the Chair of the Budget Committee told RÚV yesterday. The Minister of Justice has stated that his decision to discontinue the operations of TF-SIF was made in consultation with the Coast Guard.

No discussion taken place

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, MP for the Left-Greens and Chair of the Budget Committee, stated that Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson did not have the authorisation for the sale of TF-SIF, the Coast Guard’s only surveillance aircraft. According to Bjarkey, the budget authorises the purchase, or lease, of three rescue helicopters and the sale of an older helicopter, TF-LÍF. Bjarkey added that she was unhappy with the decision and the way that the Minister had gone about things, not least in light of the fact that no discussion had taken place within the Budget Committee.

“Authorisation is required, according to the sixth article of the law, in order to be allowed to sell these machines, and we may have reacted in a different way if we assumed that they were being sold – in discussions within the budget committee and discussions within Parliament – so I am not at all happy that some kind of authorisation is being requested afterwards, when the minister should do it beforehand,” Bjarkey remarked.

When asked if a minister could set a plan in motion without the required authorisation, as in this case, Bjarkey stated that such a thing was possible: “but of course, those plans may also collapse if the authorisation is not obtained; that’s the nature of these things.”

Bjarkey planned to convene the Budget Committee to discuss the matter yesterday and that she would request the presence of the Minister of Justice and the Coast Guard.

Consulted with the Coast Guard

Speaking to RÚV, the Minister of Justice maintained that the decision to discontinue the operations of TF-SIF was made in consultation with the Coast Guard. “We received a letter on December 18, in which various options to respond to the operational deficit were reviewed. It was believed that this would be the least damaging way forward, in terms of security considerations and other aspects of the Coast Guard’ operation, and would serve to fill the budgetary gap,” Jón Gunnarsson observed.

Preparations have begun to examine possible replacements for TF-SIF in the event of the sale. Jón stated that authorisation from Parliament to sell the plane has yet to be sought. “In other words, the intention was to announce that preparations would be started within the Coast Guard to sell the aircraft. We must then receive the authorisation from Parliament in order to carry out that sale. Meanwhile, we plan to have worked on future solutions in this regard, where we do not compromise the underlying security considerations,” Jón remarked. He added that it must be considered food for thought that the plane had never been recalled from missions in the southern seas over the recent years.

Important at the outer limits of Iceland’s jurisdiction

Kristín Jónsdóttir, geologist and Head of the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s Service and Research Department, told RÚV that the proposed sale was a big disappointment. “Because we’re talking about an aircraft that can help us in big moments. We are talking about critical events, such as the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The aircraft penetrates plumes of smoke and is capable of observing phenomena that can’t be detected with the naked eye. There will be volcanic eruptions in the future where we need this aircraft.”

The State Auditor’s report from last year also noted that the aircraft was particularly important at the outer limits of Iceland’s jurisdiction, RÚV reports. In such areas, searching for, and rescuing people from danger was only possible by way of planes or ships. The report also made mention of the plane’s unique features, that it is equipped with advanced radars and a thermal camera. Lifeboats can also be launched from TF-SIFT for those in distress.

Tempers run hot in Parliament

Yesterday morning, temperatures ran high among members of Parliament, RÚV notes, who expressed their displeasure with the Minister of Justice’s decision. The MPs unceremoniously broached the issue during discussions about the Speaker’s meeting management and complained that the decision had not been discussed much earlier.

“It’s unacceptable that the government’s fiscal policy leads to basic infrastructure, essential safety equipment, being sold so that other operations can be maintained,” Helga Vala Helgadóttir, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, observed.

Björn Leví Gunnarsson, MP for the Pirates, was likewise dissatisfied with the minister’s actions. “Was any MP present aware, when voting for the budget bill occurrred, that it would have these consequences? We don’t know what we’re agreeing to when we press the button because it’s not explicit.”

“It’s been observed how important the aircraft is, both for the safety of the citizens and for the Coast Guard’s security role: for search and rescue,” Sigmar Guðmundsson, MP for the Liberal Reform Party, commented. “It is quite unbelievable that the ruling parties did not discuss the matter with us.”