Icelandic Whaling CEO Defends Suspended Vessel

Hvalur, whaling company,

In a recent interview with RÚV, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s only whaling company, defended a recent incident that led to the suspension of one of his vessels. Kristján cited mechanical failure and criticised the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) for its lack of expertise and procedural lapses.

Untenable situation

In a recent interview with the news programme Kastljós, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s sole whaling company, addressed questions concerning an incident that resulted in the suspension of operations for one of his whaling vessels.

Kristján explained that the incident on September 7 was accidental, involving a hook entangled in a winch. This mechanical failure left the harpooned whale alive and attached to the hook, with the crew unable to either reel it in or release it. “It was an untenable situation with no better course of action available,” Kristján stated.

He further argued that a video capturing the incident was misleading. “The footage, taken by an inspector from the Directorate of Fisheries, employed by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), utilised zoom features that distorted the actual distance of the whale from the vessel,” Kristján said. He contended that the whale was out of range for immediate euthanisation, making the suspension of the vessel’s activities based on the video unjust.

Kristján criticised MAST’s expertise, stating, “To my knowledge, the organisation lacks individuals with a comprehensive understanding of fishing.” He estimated that approximately 70% of MAST’s staff consists of general office workers and veterinarians. Kristján also claimed that MAST had failed to consult with the Directorate of Fisheries before making the decision to suspend operations, thereby violating its own protocols.

Fulfilling the quota impossible

When questioned about the likelihood of the suspension being lifted with only ten days remaining in the hunting season, Kristján Loftsson responded, “I’m loathe to peer into the brains of MAST’s employees. I refuse to do it.”

Kristján concluded by revealing his intention to apply for a new whaling licence once the current one expires. He also disclosed that the company has thus far hunted fifteen whales, approximately 10% of the total quota of around 160, acknowledging that fulfilling the quota is unlikely. While he confirmed experiencing significant financial losses, he declined to specify the amount.

Whaling Vessel Suspended for Violating Welfare Protocols

Whaling ships

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily suspended the operations of whaling vessel Hvalur 8 for violating animal welfare protocols during a fin whale hunt, Vísir reports. The suspension will remain in place until corrective measures are verified by MAST and the Directorate of Fisheries.

Suspension in effect until corrective measures are adopted

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily halted the operations of the whaling vessel Hvalur 8, citing severe breaches of animal welfare protocols during the capture of a fin whale.

According to a press release on MAST’s website, a monitoring operation revealed that the initial shot fired from Hvalur 8 on September 7 struck a fin whale “outside the designated target area,” resulting in the animal’s failure to expire immediately.

Per newly-established regulations, the animal should have been dispatched with a subsequent shot without delay. However, the follow-up shot was not administered until approximately 30 minutes later, leading to the animal’s death a few minutes thereafter. The delay constitutes a violation of both animal welfare laws and long-line fishing regulations, according to MAST’s statement.

As noted by MAST, the suspension will remain in effect until corrective measures have been implemented and verified by both Mast and the Directorate of Fisheries (i.e. Fiskistofa).

Whaling Crew Sues Over Video Recordings

Two crew members on a whaling ship operated by Iceland’s only active whaling company have sued the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) and the Directorate of Fisheries, RÚV reports. They assert that their right to privacy was violated by a video recording made on the ship.

The recordings were made as part of authorities’ surveillance of whaling last year, which was increased in 2022 in line with new regulations. The two crew members can be identified in the video and believe this violated their right to privacy.

A newly-release report made with the help of such surveillance indicates that whaling is not in line with animal welfare legislation in Iceland. Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir called the report “shocking” and said it called for a re-evaluation of the practice in Iceland.

Only one company currently practices whaling in Iceland, Hvalur hf., and their licence expires after the upcoming whaling season. Svandís has previously indicated that the government will not issue further whaling licence after this year.

Consolidation and Control of Quota Permits Under Scrutiny

Former Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir has instructed the Directorate of Fisheries to increase its supervision of quota permits. The Minister has also proposed a bill to grant the Directorate of Fisheries greater authority. These measures aim to prevent the consolidation of quota permits and deter non-compliance with laws and regulations within the fishing industry.

Blackport takes Iceland by storm

Ever since Blackport (Verbúðin) premiered on RÚV in late December, the TV series has inspired nostalgia for the ’80s while also training the spotlight on the Icelandic fishing industry.

The series, whose season finale premiered last Sunday, revolves partly around the transferable quota system, which was introduced in 1984 and allocated Iceland’s fishing allowance among fishermen-cum-boat-owners.

Life imitating art

Last Wednesday, Blackport served as a segue into proposed amendments to the supervision of the quota system in a conversation between Minister of Food, Fisheries, and Agriculture, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, and journalist Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson on the news programme Fréttavaktin on Hringbraut.

Svandís observed that Blackport was an “excellent” series that had inspired Icelandic society to reflect back upon that “dangerous cocktail of business and politics,” noting that the temptation of corruption remained a real possibility.

Later in the conversation, Svandís discussed what she felt were necessary changes to the quota system – changes publicised in a press release on the government’s website yesterday.

Granting the Directorate of Fisheries Greater Authority

As noted in the press release, Svandís Svavarsdóttir has entrusted the Directorate of Fisheries to investigate the consolidation and control of quota permits by associated parties within the Icelandic fishing industry.

In her instruction to the Directorate, the Minister emphasised that the institution conduct a systematic investigation of the control of quota permits by associated parties and that it inform the Ministry of its findings at regular intervals.

The Minister’s instructions are founded on two reports: a task-force report on the increased supervision of fishery resources, on the one hand, and a report by the auditor general from 2018 on the Fisheries Management Act, on the other hand. (Article 13 of the Fisheries Management Act defines the allowable quota share of individual and associated parties.)

A parliamentary bill to deter non-compliance

The Minister has also proposed a bill to amend specific laws within fisheries management, which the cabinet has approved for discussion before Parliament. The aim of the new legislation, which will grant the Directorate of Fisheries greater authority, is more efficient supervision to deter non-compliance with laws and regulations applicable to the management of fishing quotas.

As noted in a press release from the Ministry: “The government must possess a clear overview of the control and consolidation of quota permits by associated parties in the industry. The systematic management of the Directorate of Fisheries is essential in this regard, and supervision must be improved. Furthermore, changes to the legal definition of “associated parties” in applicable laws are needed so that it is clear when two parties are considered “associated.” With these instructions and this parliamentary bill, the first steps are taken to make the necessary amendments in the supervision of the fisheries management system. Efficient supervision on behalf of the government is one of the conditions for engendering trust among the public in the management of the collective natural resource,” Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote.

Associated parties

According to an article in Kjarninn published yesterday, the ten largest fishing companies in Iceland controlled 53% of the allocated quota in 2020; in November of last year, the aforementioned share had risen to 67%. Parallel to these developments, the profits of fishing companies have increased significantly, with less than 30% of profits being collected by the Icelandic government in the form of income tax, payroll tax, and fishing fees, while 70% of profits settled in the coffers of fishing companies.

(This article was updated at 7.36 on February 19, 2022)

Coastal Fishermen Unhappy With Reduced Cod Quota

overfishing iceland

Small boat fishermen in Iceland are unhappy with the government’s decision to reduce their cod fishing quota from 10,000 tonnes down to 8,500 for the coming summer season, Vísir reports. Arthúr Bogason, chairman of the National Union of Small Boat Owners (Landssamband smábátaeigenda) says the government has not provided any data to support the decision and hopes it will be reconsidered. A meeting with Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir on the matter was inconclusive.

Arthúr says he does not know whether the decision to reduce the quota was made in the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture or by the Directorate of Fisheries (Fiskistofa) but the union is working to find out. However, since the decision was made on December 21, the phone at the union office has not stopped ringing. He adds that the Left-Green Movement, the party to which Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir belongs, has supported coastal fishermen in the past and worked to improve their conditions. The decision comes across as change of direction from the party. Arthúr brought up the issue in a meeting with Svandís one week ago. He stated that although the discussion went well and the union expects fruitful collaboration with the incoming minister.

Last year a total of 670 fishermen held coastal fishing licences. Coastal fishing is not an easy job, according to Arthúr, but the number of fishermen in the field has remained relatively steady since 2009, when the current regulations governing coastal fishing were implemented. The regulations permit all fishermen to fish in coastal waters provided they fulfill certain requirements, which Arthúr describes as extensive. “Certain politicians predicted [coastal fishing] would explode. That thousands would sign up and it was best avoided.” However, since the current system was implemented, the number of fishermen has fluctuated between 600 and 726, according to Arthúr. “While handline fishing is romantic, there’s a lot of hard work and sweat and tears mixed in with the romance,” he stated.

Up to a Third of Catch Discarded, Drone Surveillance Reveals

fishing lumpfish net

With the help of drone surveillance, Iceland’s Directorate of Fisheries has discovered ten times as many discard cases in the fishing industry in 2021 than in 2020. So far this year, the Directorate has processed at least 120 cases involving fishing companies, both large and small, that have discarded catch back into the ocean. Some of the cases involved the discard of two or more fish per minute and up to one third of a vessel’s total catch. Kjarninn reported first.

Ten times more discard cases discovered with drones

Until 2021, the Directorate of Fisheries recorded around 10 cases of discard annually. Since introducing drone surveillance at the beginning of this year, that number has increased more than tenfold. The vast majority of these cases concluded with a written letter from the Directorate of Fisheries stating that catch should not be thrown back into the sea, while one case resulted in the temporary suspension of a fishing licence and three with formal warnings.

The drone surveillance is mostly carried out from land, and as a consequence, the cases mostly involve smaller or medium-sized vessels that fish closer to the shore. Some drone surveillance was carried out from ships last spring, however. Four of this year’s cases involve bottom trawlers of the largest size. Elín Björg Ragnarsdóttir, head of the Directorate of Fisheries’ surveillance department, told RÚV that the spike in cases likely does not reflect an increase in the practice of discarding catch, rather simply that more instances are being discovered, though this cannot be confirmed.

An international problem

Discards constitute the portion of a catch of fish that is thrown back into the ocean and not retained on board a fishing vessel. The percentage of such fish that survives the process varies by species. Fish may be discarded due to being an unmarketable species, being below minimum landing size, or being fish that cannot be landed due to quota restrictions. Discard in the North Sea, for example, has been estimated at nearly 1 million tonnes annually, one-third of the total weight landed each year.

Discarding catch at sea is illegal according to Icelandic law. Icelandic regulations require fishing vessels to retain most fish for which quotas have been set or species for which a market exists.

Propose Drone Surveillance to Combat Fishing Fraud

A bill proposing more oversight in the fishing industry, including drone surveillance of ports, has evoked strong reactions from opponents, RÚV reports.

Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson put forth the bill, the purpose of which is to counteract the practice of discarding catch as well as weighing fraud. It covers all fishing ports, weighing license holders, and vessels engaged in commercial fishing.

The bill proposes camera surveillance in each port which would monitor the landing of catches as well as their transport and weighing. Camera surveillance would also be installed on all fishing vessels to monitor the fishing and processing of catches. The Directorate of Fisheries would also operate a fleet of remote-controlled aircraft to monitor all activities in the industry. Staff at the Directorate of Fisheries would have electronic access to the camera system.

The SA Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise published a statement opposing the bill titled “The All-Seeing Eye of the State?” It reads in part “there is no doubt that if these plans are implemented they will be a model for other supervisory authorities and within a few years Icelanders could be living in a surveillance society of an unprecedented kind which has until now only existed in novels and films.”

The Minister responded to the statement, saying he had “no intentions” of creating an all-seeing surveillance system as described by SA. “We are not making the Directorate of Fisheries control a drone army,” he stated. “This isn’t war.” Kristján Þór pointed out that camera surveillance is already practiced in the fishing industry, and criticised the confederation for not proposing alternative measures to address the existing shortcomings in oversight.