Less Cod, More Haddock To Be Fished Next Year

fish fishing haddock

The Icelandic Marine and Freshwater Research Institute has suggested a 6% decrease in cod catch quotas for the next fishing season. A notice from the Institute states that the decline is due to a lower estimate of the reference biomass compared to previous years and the effect of the catch stabiliser in the harvest control rule.

The Institute is hopeful for cod in Icelandic waters, stating: “The reference biomass of cod is expected to increase slightly in the next two to three years when the 2019 and 2020 cohorts enter the reference biomass as they are estimated to be above average in terms of size.”

Meanwhile, suggested catch quotas for haddock increase to 62,219 tonnes, up 23% from last year.

MFRI Director Þorsteinn Sigurðsson stated in an introductory meeting that several fish stocks, including tusk, ling, blue ling, beaked redfish, anglerfish, witch, megrim, and langoustine, have been experiencing poor recruitment in the past few years, Fiskifréttir report. These fish stay in the warmer waters to the south and west coast of Iceland. “Unfortunately, there seems to be little change for the better. The reasons for this negative development are unknown, but the most likely explanation is that it’s due to changes in Iceland’s marine environment.”

Reduction of Capelin Quota May Be Necessary

capelin loðna fishing

New measurements of capelin stocks from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) suggest that it might be necessary to reduce capelin quotas for the ongoing season by around 100,000 tonnes. This year’s quota was set at 904,200 tonnes and has not been higher in decades. MFRI’s final decision is expected by mid-February.

In October 2021, the MFRI set a capelin catch quota for the 2021-2022 season at 904,000 tonnes following the autumn research expeditions. This quota was sevenfold that of the previous season’s quota, and a dramatic shift from 2019 and 2020, when no capelin catch quota was issued at all. The total landings of the 2020-2021 fishing year amounted to about 128,600 tonnes, among the lowest catches since 1980. Still, its export value amounted to 20 billion ISK [$154,500,000, €133,140,000].

Research vessels Árni Friðriksson and Bjarni Sæmundsson recently completed an expedition to assess the state of capelin stocks. The data collected suggest a total catch quota of 800,000 tonnes, which would be a 11% reduction from the previously issued quota. The recommendation is based on measurements taken off the Northeast, East, and Southeast coasts. Sea ice delayed measurements in the Westfjords region, which are expected to be done next week. A final quota recommendation will be issued after that expedition is complete.

Capelin fishing has gone well this season, with two ships breaking records for the largest ever catch in Iceland.

MFRI Advises Greatly Increased Capelin Catch Quota for 2021-22

The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute of Iceland has set its new advice for capelin catch quotas for the 2021/22 season at 904,200 tonnes following this autumn’s research expeditions. This is close to sevenfold last year’s quota and a dramatic shift from 2019 and 2020 when no capelin quota was issued at all. The capelin catch will have a positive impact on the economy, states Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson.

The MFRI’s advice is based on the autumn’s acoustic measurements but the final catch quota will be issued early in 2022, following further research expeditions in January-February.  Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson told 200 Mílur that the news creates opportunities for fishing towns around the country and that it’s a positive for Iceland’s economy, which is still recovering from the effects of the global pandemic. “This increase in capelin quota would mean that we see an increase in export revenue and more economic growth next year than expected,” Bjarni stated.

According to the most recent acoustic survey, the capelin’s spawning stock biomass is estimated at 1,833,000 tonnes. The harvest control rule (HCR) aims at leaving at least 150,000 tonnes of mature capelin at the time of spawning in March with a 95% probability. The index of immature capelin (age 1 and 2) was the third-highest since 1980.

Capelin catch in Iceladnic waters from 1980-2020
MFRI. The MFRI’s latest advice would allow Icelanders to catch close to seven times the amount of capelin caught in 2020/21

While the autumn’s research expeditions were extensive, weather delays caused less coverage in the southwestern parts of the survey area where immature capelin dominated. There was also limited coverage north of Iceland. The estimate of mature capelin has a higher uncertainty than before but acoustic measurements this winter might clarify this issue.

The total landings of the 2020/2021 fishing year amounted to about 128 600 tonnes, which is among the lowest catches since 1980. No capelin was caught in Icelandic waters during summer and autumn 2020. The 2021 winter fishery took place from January until March. Despite relatively low catch, last year’s export value of capelin amounted to 20 billion ISK [$154,500,000, €133,140,000]. If it fetches similar prices this year, the export value could be seven times as much.

Lumpfish Season Starts Next Week Amid Catch Quota Uncertainty


The lumpfish fishing season begins Tuesday, March 23, according to new regulations issued by Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson, in all areas except for Breiðafjörður, where it starts May 20. The IMFRI will issue their suggested catch limits on March 31.  The new regulations allow the Directorate of Fisheries to cut the season short for all other regions but Breiðafjörður if they come close to finishing this year’s allotted catch, and it also allows fishermen to collect lumpfish roe but leave the fish itself behind. These measures are aimed at eliminating uncertainty among lumpfish fishermen, who are facing a difficult season as anti-bycatch legislation, difficult market conditions and the possibility of catch quotas threaten the stability of independent fishermen and rural fishing communities.

Lumpfish licenses instead of catch quotas

Unlike most fishing in Icelandic waters, lumpfish fishing is controlled by licenses and fishing periods instead of catch quotas. A lumpfish license gives sailors the right to 25 consecutive days of lumpfish fishing in the period between March 23-30 June. In that period, they can fish as much lumpfish as they can, although authorities keep a watchful eye to see their catch doesn’t exceed that recommended by the Icelandic Marine and Freshwater Institute (IMFRI). The sea around Iceland is split into seven fishing zones, one of which begins the season much later than the others. To protect bird- and wildlife in the area, fishermen in inner Breiðafjörður start their season May 20, much later than others. One of the small boat owners’ main reason for continuing the current system is it’s a system that works – usually. Last year, however, Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór cut the lumpfish season short as fishermen in North and East Iceland had such a good season they were nearing the limit of what experts at the IMFRI believe the lumpfish stock can handle. This was a blow to Breiðafjörður fishermen, as the season there starts later to protect bird- and wildlife in the area.

Opposition from small boat owners

Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór has presented a bill in Parliament that would make lumpfish fishing subject to catch quotas, but the bill has seen fierce opposition from The National Association of Small Boat Owners. While the majority of lumpfish license holders support the bill, as it would be a great financial boon for them, the bill would make it harder for independent fishermen to gain access to lumpfish fishing. As it is, lumpfish fishing is one of the few types of fishing you can get into without owning or renting catch quotas, which requires funds. Last year’s catch disparity was one of the main reasons Kristján Þór presented the catch quota bill, which would make it easier to manage lumpfish catch, but at the moment, most signs indicate that the bill won’t pass parliament this year, at least not in time for this year’s lumpfish season.

Photo. Golli. Lumpfish fishing in East Iceland.

Global pandemic affects lumpfish prices

Due to the global pandemic, global lumpfish prices are low. The most valuable part of the lumpfish is its roe, while the fish itself is secondary in terms of monetary value. The lumpfish is mostly exported to China, while lumpfish roe is exported to Europe. The roe is a luxury commodity, so during times of global pandemic when many restaurants are closed, demand in Europe is low. In China, the demand for the fish itself is non-existent. As the price for the fish is hitting rock bottom, this year’s regulation allows fishermen to collect lumpfish roe but leave the fish itself behind out on the ocean, a novelty for lumpfish regulations, which usually require fishermen to land all of their catch.

Under such difficult market conditions, it is normal for license holders to hold off on lumpfish fishing and focus on other, more lucrative types of fishing, but as 200 Mílur has reported, the prospect of catch quotas could make lumpfish fishermen afraid to skip this year’s fishing season. If the valuable catch quotas are distributed based on catch history like the bill currently proposed suggests, fishermen want to make sure they get their piece of the lumpfish pie. According to the Federation of Small Boat Owners Chairman Arthur Bogason, fears of inactive license holders rushing to fish for lumpfish are not keeping him up at night. His feeling, based on conversations with small boat owners across the country, is that there’s not a rush towards lumpfish fishing, as one season of fishing would hardly result in enough of a catch history to accrue much catch quota, calculated on the basis of catch history from 2013-2019.

An uncertain future for lumpfish fishing

The reason the Breiðafjörður fishermen start later than others is to minimise bird and seal bycatch. The amount of bycatch in lumpfish fishing is a problem, one that could possibly threaten the future of lumpfish fishing. According to Arthur, lumpfish fishermen are continuing their efforts this year to minimise bycatch. In addition to harming wildlife, bycatch is a nuisance for fishermen and can damage fishing gear. Last year, the pandemic affected the Icelandic Marine and Freshwater Research Institute’s ability to conduct in-person investigations of bycatch, jeopardising future export to American markets on grounds of the US Marine Mammal Protection act. While lumpfish export to the US isn’t extensive by any means, lumpfish bycatch could affect US export of Cod, a much more lucrative business. The MMPA taking effect was postponed by one year, giving authorities a little more time to find a solution to the problem but minimising bycatch as much as the MMPA requires is still near-impossible, meaning that as lumpfish fishermen head out next March 23, the future is still uncertain.

Fishermen working at the Bakkafjörður harbour
Photo. Golli. Lumpfish fishing in East Iceland.