Iceland News Review: Björk vs. Fishing Giants

In this episode of Iceland News Review, a new twist in a daring daylight heist, Björk encourages opposition to a controversial fishing bill, keeping geese off the runway, a presidential elections record, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

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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Björk Encourages Icelanders to Fight Fishing Bill

Artist Björk Guðmundsdóttir has entered the fray in support of a petition calling upon Parliament to vote against a controversial fishing bill. She announced this support on X (formerly Twitter).

The bill in question

The bill, already submitted to Parliament by Minister of Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Party, would change the law regarding operation licenses for fishing farms in Iceland. The specific change would be to make these licenses indefinite; as it is, they run for 16 years, with an option to extend them.

If passed, current license holders would have control over one of Iceland’s most valuable resources for possibly far longer than before. The bill has been met with opposition from numerous groups, including the Federation of Icelandic River Owners and the Icelandic Wildlife Fund.

The bill has also been a point of contention in the current presidential race, as it was crafted while Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who is running for president, was still chair of the Left-Greens. This has prompted another candidate, Steinunn Ólína Kristjánsdóttir, to question whether Katrín could be impartial about signing, or vetoing, this particular bill, should it become law. She also started the petition.

“Do you want to give the rich our fjords?”

Posting on X, Björk wrote, “Do you want to give the rich our fjords? If not, sign [the petition].”

Björk then quotes an article from RÚV that outlines how the stated purpose of the bill is to increase sustainability, but that the Icelandic Wildlife Fund argues that the bill, if made law, would work against that purpose.

She then quotes the mission statement of the petition, which reads in part: “The bill authorizes 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.”

Fish farming is a matter close to Björk’s heart; she has also recently joined a list of plaintiffs in another fish farming case.

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Björk Among Plaintiffs in Fish Farming Case

björk 1997

The Westfjords Police will continue to investigate the escape of 3,500 salmons last August from a fish farm in Patreksfjörður run by the company Arctic Fish. Police had previously ended their investigation, but a motion from dozens of interested parties forced the issue, BB.is reports.

Among the plaintiffs was internationally renowned singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Björk is a member of AEGIS, a pressure group against offshore aquaculture, operating on behalf of the Icelandic Wildlife Fund (IWF).

Disastrous environmental effects

Police had dropped their investigation into whether Arctic Fish had breached laws governing fish farming in December of last year. Fish escaping from fish farms can have disastrous environmental effects. The farmed fish can carry parasites deadly to wild fish or even breed with the wild fish, producing offsprings that can not survive in nature.

The motion from environmental groups and angling societies caused the Public Prosecutor to intervene and have the police reopen the case. Gunnar Örn Petersen, the manager of the Federation of Icelandic River Owners, said that the Westfjord police commissioner was either incompetent or biased in the case. The commissioner’s stance had been that Arctic Fish could not be held liable for the circumstances leading to the escape.

Wild salmon safety in the public interest

The Public Prosecutor, however, noted that the manager and, in some cases, board members of Arctic Fish could be responsible for the internal monitoring of conditions and protocols regarding fish farming. They went on to state that all plaintiffs were eligible to file a motion in this case, as it pertains to the public interest of safeguarding the wild salmon population.

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Björk to be Honoured with Statue in Reykjavík

björk 1997

Icelandic musician and artist Björk has been named an honorary citizen of Reykjavik. The City Council of Reykjavík has decided to commission a statue in her honour as opposed to holding a traditional ceremony.

City honours Björk

At a City Council meeting yesterday, Icelandic singer Björk was named an honorary citizen of Reykjavik. As noted by RÚV, Björk is the eighth individual to receive this honour. Other recipients include Reverend Bjarni Jónsson, ophthalmologist Kristján Sveinsson, former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, chess grandmaster Friðrik Ólafsson, music teacher and choir director Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir, and artists Erró and Yoko Ono.

Read More: Iceland Review Interviews Björk

Instead of a traditional ceremony, the city council agreed that artist Gabríela Friðriksdóttir would be commissioned to create a statue of Björk. The project will be a collaboration with the Reykjavik Art Museum, and a proposal for the statue’s location will be announced later.

A long and varied career

In a statement from the City Council of Reykjavik, it’s noted that few people, if any, have helped to elevate the name of Reykjavik more than Björk. She boasts a successful career spanning four decades, in both the Icelandic and international arts scene. In her work as a singer, composer, record producer, actress, as well as a pioneer and activist in various fields, no other Icelander has garnered the same international recognition as Björk.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir, known mononymously as Björk, is an Icelandic musician and artist who was born in Reykjavik in 1965. Beginning her music career at a young age, she first gained prominence as a member of the Sugarcubes, an influential alternative rock band. After the band’s dissolution in 1992, Björk embarked on a successful solo career, known for her experimental musical style and unique voice.

Björk has released a series of critically acclaimed albums, including Debut, Post, and Homogenic. Her work spans a variety of genres and incorporates elements of electronic, pop, classical, and avant-garde music. Beyond music, Björk has also made a mark in acting and music production. Renowned for her artistic innovation and powerful stage presence, she has received numerous awards and accolades and has established herself as a leading figure in contemporary music.

Björk Enlists Rosalía in Campaign Against Fish Farming in Iceland

Singer Björk

Björk and Rosalía are releasing a song to protest against Icelandic aquaculture, coinciding with a related public demonstration on October 7. Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries proposed a stricter legal framework to mitigate the industry’s environmental impact on Wednesday.

Proceeds going towards the fight against aquaculture

Björk has partnered with Spanish singer Rosalía in the fight against aquaculture in Iceland; the pair has announced the release of a song in October, and Björk encourages all Icelanders to attend a protest against fish farming at Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík on Saturday, October 7. Icelandic musician Bubbi is also set to perform. The two artists plan to use the proceeds from the song to support locals in legal cases against aquaculture companies.

“I want to release a song that Rosalía and I wrote together. The proceeds will go towards the fight against aquaculture in Iceland. The song will be released in October,” Björk stated in an announcement on Instagram, where she also shared a snippet from the song.

As previously noted, a protest against aquaculture is scheduled for Saturday, October 7. Seven associations are organising the protest, stating that it’s “now or never for the wild salmon.” Mbl.is reported yesterday that Björk would appear at Saturday’s protest alongside Rosalía.

Survival of wild salmon under threat

In her Instagram post, Björk stated that Iceland had the largest untouched wilderness in Europe, observing that in the summer “sheep have roamed free in the mountains” and “fish have swum unrestricted in rivers, lakes, and fjords.”

Given the pristine state of Iceland’s nature, it was a “big shock” when Icelandic and Norwegian businessmen started setting up fish farms in the majority of Iceland’s fjords, according to Björk. She went on to explain that she and others were at a loss at how these farms had been operated for the better part of a decade without any regulatory framework or legislation.

“This has already had a devastating effect on wildlife,” Björk observed, stating that the farmed fish had suffered in “horrid health conditions,” noting that many of them had escaped into local streams, potentially spelling the extinction of wild salmon in Iceland.

“There is still a chance to save the last wild salmon of the north!” Björk stated. She also urged the aforementioned companies to cease their operations and expressed her desire to help implement new laws and regulations in the Icelandic legal environment to protect nature. The protests at Austurvöllur were about transforming the will of the people into law, she concluded by saying.

Draft of stricter policy presented

As reported by IR yesterday, the Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir presented the draft of a new legal framework for fish farming in Iceland on Wednesday. The draft proposes increased monitoring of fish farms and requiring licence holders to pay “a fair price” for the use of natural resources. Escaped salmon from open-net fish farms in the Westfjords have been found in rivers across Northwest Iceland and the Westfjords in recent weeks, threatening the survival of the country’s wild salmon.

Open-net fish farming in Icelandic waters has grown more than tenfold between 2014 and 2021. Yearly production rose from under 4,000 tonnes to nearly 45,000 tonnes over this period. More than 99% of that production was farmed salmon.

Björk Awarded Honorary Degree by Iceland University of the Arts

Björk Guðmundsdóttir

Icelandic artist Björk was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Iceland University of the Arts during a graduation ceremony at Harpa Music Conference Hall on June 16, 2023. It marks the second time in the university’s history that such an accolade has been bestowed.

“No ordinary musician”

At a graduation ceremony at the Harpa Music Conference Hall on June 16, 2023, Icelandic artist Björk Guðmundsdóttir was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Iceland University of the Arts. She received the honour in recognition of her “significant artistic contributions.”

As noted by a press release on the university’s website, the honorary doctorate is bestowed upon individuals who have made a distinctive impact on art and culture and serves as an opportunity for the institution to pay homage to the recipient’s achievements and contributions to the academic realm of art.

To be eligible for the recognition, recipients must have made an important contribution and “garnered respect within their respective fields, be it as artists, academics, or influential figures in the realms of culture, art, or art education.”

During the event, Friða Björk Ingvarsdóttir, President of the Iceland University of the Arts, delivered a speech highlighting the career of Björk, describing her as a formidable force. “Björk is no ordinary musician; a different set of laws seem to be govern her work. As a solo artist, she has consistently revitalised her bond with her compositions and her own image. Each new creation she presents brings us an unforeseen and harmonious world.”

“Most of us are familiar with the story of how Björk practically introduced Icelandic music to a global audience,” Fríða Björk continued. “While other Icelandic musicians have garnered acclaim and left an impression worldwide, Björk was the trailblazer who effectively brought Icelandic music into the international spotlight. Her groundbreaking achievements have undoubtedly benefited subsequent artists who have followed in her footsteps.”

Two works by Björk were performed at the ceremony: a performance of Atopos by Murmura, on the one hand, and a performance of Tabula Rasa by Viibra.

This marks the second time in the university’s history that such an accolade has been bestowed. Composer Hjálmar H. Ragnarsson was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2016.

Björk to Participate in Anti-Whaling Protest This Saturday

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Icelandic musician Björk will participate in an anti-whaling protest in Reykjavík on Saturday, June 3. The organisers of the event are urging the Icelandic government to put a stop to whaling immediately.

Speeches, music, and a workshop

As noted in a press release sent to Icelandic media this morning, musician Björk is set to participate in an artistic event against whaling to be held at the Hjartatorg Square in downtown Reykjavík (below Laugavegur, between Smiðjustígur and Klapparstígur) on Saturday, June 3.

Icelandic musicians Högni and JFDR will take the stage, and speeches will be delivered by actress Hera Hilmars, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, alongside representatives from Ungir umhverfissinnar (the Icelandic Youth Environmental Association) and the Nordic Youth Biodiversity Network. The two associations will also announce a pending lawsuit against the Icelandic government if the authorities do not revoke the whaling licence immediately.

During the event, organisers will circulate two petitions, an Icelandic and an international one, which will be submitted to the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and the Prime Minister next week. As noted in the press release, over 100,000 signatures have already been collected on change.org over the past month. Nearly 18,000 individuals have signed the Icelandic petition.

A solidarity march from the old harbour

The event will begin at 2 PM at the Old Harbor in Reykjavík where attendees will gather around Fífill, a boat owned by the Elding whale watching company, and proceed towards Hjartatorg square, “in the spirit of the journeys that finback whales embark on every year, from the Azores past Iceland to Svalbard.”

Following the procession, the event itself will take place between 3 and 7 PM and will be emceed by actress and comedienne Saga Garðarsdóttir. The organisers will also host an art workshop for children, who will be afforded the opportunity to paint and make their own flags. The musical performances and speeches will be punctuated by DJ sets from Guðmundur Arnalds, Juanma b2b, and Björk. “Join us for a day of music, solidarity, and artistic expression as we gather for a cause close to our hearts,” the Facebook event reads.

As noted on IR in early May, Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated that it was not possible to halt whaling this season, despite a report showing that the practice is not in line with legislation on animal welfare. “Iceland’s only active whaling company, Hvalur hf., says it is developing two methods to make hunting more efficient, one that uses artificial intelligence and another that uses an electric current,” the article notes.

Björk Announces Cancellation of Reykjavík Concert Series

Singer Björk

Björk’s advertised concert series in Reykjavík in June has been cancelled due to production problems. All concertgoers will have their tickets refunded.

Irresolvable production issues

In February of this year, Icelandic singer Björk announced plans to hold a series of concerts at the Laugardalshöll Stadium on June 7, 10, and 13.

As noted in an article on Vísir, the concerts were to last two hours and feature music from her albums Utopia and Fossora. “This is the biggest show that Björk has ever done and will boast one of the more numerous assembly of digital screens on a single stage.”

Yesterday, however, Björk announced that she was calling the concert off. “There have been problems with the production of the concert that we do not expect to be able to solve in time. We realise that this will disappoint ticket holders and apologise for the inconvenience this may cause,” a press release from Björk states.

“We are determined to do everything we can to prevent this from happening again and will review our processes with this in mind. We still hope to find a way to make the concert a reality next year. However, as it may take weeks or months to resolve all technical and logistical issues, we are forced at this point to cancel and refund.”

Björk’s Fossora Nominated for Grammy in Best Alternative Music

björk grammy

Björk’s latest album, Fossora, has been nominated for the 2023 Grammy awards under the category Best Alternative Music Album.

Fossora, released in September of this year, is Björk’s most recent album-length work since her 2017 album, Utopia. It has been well-received by critics, and concerns topics such as motherhood, loss, and grief.

Other nominations in the category include Arcade Fire, Big Thief, Wet Leg, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Notably, the nomination will be Björk’s 16th Grammy nomination, but she has yet to take home the prestigious American award.

The 65th annual Grammy awards will be broadcast on February 5, 2023.

Check out our recent interview with Björk on her latest album, unlocked for all readers.