Iceland Drops in Corruption Rankings

Boat with Samherji Logo

Iceland is down two spots in Transparency International’s corruption rankings and now sits in 19th place. The Nordic countries, apart from Iceland, rank at the top as some of the least corrupt countries in the world, Heimildin reports.

Transparency International, a global movement to end the injustice of corruption, published its list this morning. Each country is rated on the basis of factors linked to corruption in the public sector, with 0 being the most corrupt and 100 the least corrupt. As it stands, Iceland has a rating of 72, the lowest rating it’s ever received. The country dropped two points and two spots from last year. In 2005 and 2006, Iceland ranked as the least corrupt country in the world before revelations related to the financial crash of 2008 saw it move down the list.

Samherji case highlighted

In a notice from the Icelandic office of Transparency International, a number of bribery cases, the privatisation of the publicly-owned Íslandsbanki, the Samherji bribery scandal, political uncertainty, and a corrupt fisheries system are named as examples of factors that have decreased public faith in good governance.

The Icelandic office specifically mentions the 2019 revelations that Samherji, one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, had allegedly bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes. A number of Namibian officials are already on trial for their part in the scandal, but in Iceland, no one has been charged in the four years since the story broke.

“Namibia has 49 points, unchanged from last year,” the notice reads. “The Icelandic office would like to highlight that Namibia is down three points since the Samherji case began. During the same time period, Iceland dropped six points.”

Nordics top the list

Transparency International was founded in 1992 and now operates in over 100 countries. They’re independent, non-governmental, and not-for-profit and have a vision for “a world in which government, politics, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption”, according to their website.

Denmark is the least corrupt country according to the index, with 90 out of 100 points. Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Sweden follow. The most corrupt country in the world is Somalia, according to the index, with South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and North Korea ranking just above it.

Working Group in Response to Young Farmers’ Distress Call

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The Association of Young Farmers has demanded immediate government action to prevent a crisis within the field. In response, Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir has established a working group to propose possible solutions.

Looming bankruptcies and abandoned farms

Yesterday, the Association of Young Farmers (i.e. Samtök ungra bænda) convened a well-attended protest meeting in Kópavogur to address the critical situation within Icelandic agriculture.

Steinþór Logi Arnarsson, Chairman of the Association, called on the government to take immediate action to avert looming bankruptcies and a decline in the farming community.

Read More: Labour of Love (a magazine profile of a young farmer in North Iceland)

Minister responds with working group

In an interview with RÚV, the Minister acknowledged the difficult nature of the situation: “This is a profound problem, to some extent, and we see that current conditions may not be optimal,” Svandís remarked, referring, among other things, to livestock agreements. She also noted that the most pressing problems facing young farmers were high interest rates and inflation.

Svandís announced that she had appointed a working group of three ministry directors to analyse the problem and deliver recommendations in the coming weeks. She also stated that there was a consensus on the issue within the government. “There are incredible opportunities within Icelandic agriculture,” she observed. “We have a lot of water, we have a lot of land, and we have a lot of well-educated and industrious people. I want to participate in instilling courage and optimism in young farmers.”

Expanded MAST Capabilities for Aquaculture Monitoring

arnarlax fish farm iceland

MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, is set to receive its own vessels and increased manpower to better oversee fish farming, RÚV reports.

Read more: Minister Booed During Fish Farming Protest 

The decision comes in the wake of recent escapes from aquaculture pens in the Westfjords, in which farmed fish were found to have made their way into Icelandic waterways. The recent incidents have led to increased public awareness of fish farming practices in Iceland, including the pollution of Icelandic fjords through fish waste, antibiotics, and pesticides, and also the danger posed to native fish stocks by farmed salmon. Because of the density in which farmed salmon are raised, they can carry infectious diseases that may harm native fish, in addition to competing with them for food.

Concerns such as these were expressed this Saturday,  October 7, at a rally on Austurvöllur Square. Among the speakers at the protest was Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson. The minister faced vocal criticism for his perceived inaction, but stated to the assembled protestors: “People can criticise me as they wish. But if one looks at what I’ve said and done, perhaps there would be less of it. That’s beside the point, as I’m not the main focus here. That’s evident. Your message is clear, and I thank you for taking the initiative to organise this, for showing up and demonstrating solidarity with Icelandic nature. Actions will be taken based on this, and this meeting truly matters. I sincerely thank you for that.”

The recent decision to expand MAST’s regulatory capabilities took place against the background of widespread disapproval of aquacultural methods in Iceland. MAST stated that in addition to the increased capabilities represented by the new boats, the number of MAST employees assigned to monitoring fish farming will also be increased. Until now, there have only been the equivalent of 5.6 full-time workers to oversee fish farming in both the East- and Westfjords.

Read more: Björk Enlists Rosalía in Campaign Against Fish Farming

Karl Steinar Óskarson, department head at MAST, stated to RÚV that they will also see ISK 126 million [$914,000; €867,000] in increased funding.

MAST intends to use this funding to hire six new positions. Currently advertised are roles in digital monitoring and “special oversight” to prevent further escapes like the large-scale escapes that were recorded last year.

MAST additionally plans to acquire two boats, trailers, and monitoring equipment. Karl Steinar stated to RÚV: “We can use these to go out to the pens when we need to. We will not be dependent on the companies, which is crucial for us.”

Authorities have also made use of submarine drones to monitor aquaculture pens, but the new boats and manpower will significantly increase MAST’s capabilities. Karl Steinar continued: “For example, in the Westfjords alone, there are over 100 pens. We have underwater drones that we purchased this year and we can visit the cages we choose and inspect them from below. We can check if repairs have been made to nets, for example, without us being informed, and also continue to monitor the fish.”

10,000 Tonnes of Cod to Coastal Fishing Pool

fishing in Iceland

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has signed a new regulation on coastal fishing allocating 10,000 tonnes of cod to the coastal fishing pool this season. The percentage of coastal fishing of the total permitted catch of cod is now almost five percent, which is similar to the fishing season of 2022, the first year that such a large part of the total permitted catch was allocated to coastal fishing.

The coastal fishing season is from May to August. The upcoming season is the 15th since coastal fishing was established. Coastal fishing in Icelandic is in part intended to open up opportunities for smaller, independent parties within the fishing industry.

Alþingi is currently reading a bill on amendments to the law on fisheries management due to the zoning of coastal fisheries. The bill was approved for submission by the government on February 24. The Ministry of Food underlined that if the bill is passed, it may be necessary to make changes to the 2023 coastal fishing regulation in accordance with legislation.

Amendment Not Sufficient to Encourage Tuna Fishing

Efforts to encourage Icelandic fisheries to make use of Atlantic bluefin tuna catch quotas allotted to Iceland have yet to prove fruitful. While tuna goes for high prices, specialised ships are necessary to make tuna fishing profitable. Chartering foreign boats to develop tuna fishing experience within the Icelandic fishing industry would require authorisation from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, Fiskifréttir reports.

Last summer, Parliament passed a provisionary article allowing Icelandic fisheries to charter foreign ships to fish for bluefin tuna. While now permissible by Icelandic laws, fishing Iceland’s quota with foreign ships is in conflict with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas’s resolutions and the amendment is therefore meaningless unless ICCAT makes revisions to their regulations.

“The change was necessary but not sufficient to clear the way for tuna fishing with foreign chartered ships,” the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries stated to Fiskifréttir. “ICCAT statutes state that such chartering is prohibited. Therefore, ICCAT’s statutes would have to be altered for such chartering to take place, even if Icelandic legislation has nothing standing in its way.” According to the ministry, the change to legislation was made at the request of Fisheries Iceland.

The Ministry also noted that if no suitable application from an Icelandic ship reaches the Directorate of Fisheries by June 1, the Ministry will look into selling a part of Iceland’s permissible catch quota to cooperating states within ICCAT under ICCAT regulations.

Since Iceland joined ICCAT in 2002, it’s been issued 1292 tonnes of quota, but only 80-90 tonnes of this valuable fish have been caught in that time, and that’s including both direct fishing and tuna bycatch. While the tuna has been intermittently caught by Iceland’s shores, in order for tuna fishing to become profitable, fisheries would need to invest in specially equipped freezer trawlers capable of freezing the tuna at much lower temperatures than current ships allow.

If Iceland continues not to use its tuna catch quota, other nations or interested parties might well make a claim to it, such as Norway or the European Union, as tuna quota is in high demand. The hope is that if an Icelandic party can charter foreign tuna boats, they might establish the know-how and experience of this highly-specialised type of fishing, which could eventually lead to Icelandic fisheries investing in tuna fishing ships.

More Fish Escape from Aquaculture Pens in West Fjords

Salmon Farm.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, or MAST, has recently been notified of a hole in a fish pen in Tálknafjörður in the West Fjords of Iceland.

The pen in question is owned and operated by Arnarlax, an aquacultural concern in Iceland.

Read more: MAST Confirm Farmed Salmon Found in Mjólká in Arnarfjörður

The hole was discovered after a routine inspection and has since been repaired, according to MAST.

According to information from Arnarlax, the hole in question was some 14cm large, occurring at a depth of 9m. The affected pen held around 99,000 salmon smolt (juvenile salmon).

Since the hole was discovered, MAST has ordered an inspection of other pens in the fjord to ensure there are no further leaks.

Read more: Salmon Fished in Westfjords Rivers Likely Escaped from Farms

Aquaculture, the raising of penned fish instead of catching wild stock, has been a subject of debate in recent years in Iceland. Proponents of aquaculture point to how it relieves pressure from wild fish stocks. Icelandic fisheries have had to implement a quota system in order to ensure against over-fishing of wild populations. Some see aquaculture as a viable alternative to supply a high-demand market, such as salmon, without over-fishing the wild stock.

However, environmentalists have criticized the practice of aquaculture, saying that high-density fish farming pollutes once-pristine fjords.

Another significant concern, as shown by recent events, is that fish pens often break through wear and tear, releasing their bred stock into the wild. The effect of interbreeding between wild and captive fish populations is not yet understood, and escaped fish also put additional pressure on the wild population, competing with them for food and other resources.

Minister of Food Allocates ISK 584.6 Million from Food Fund

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, has allocated ISK 584.6 million ($4.2 million /€4.1 million) from the Food Fund (Matvælasjóður). Fifty-eights projects, from 211 applications in total, received grants.

Among the projects that received grants:

– The development of delicacies from lamb and sheep riblets
– A marketing initiative for the export of Icelandic whiskey
– A project to maximise the productivity of home food growing systems for local vegetable production
– Potable supplements made from Icelandic algae
– A system of supervision and certification for Icelandic salt-fish products
– Protein manufacturing from Icelandic grass
– The development of flavouring products from algae for oriental food
– Foal jerky and raw sausages

“The creativity and daring that Icelandic food manufacturers possess is a reason for rejoicing and goes to show that Iceland is on the right course as a food manufacturer. It’s also great to see that the gender ratio is almost even,” Svandís stated.

Four separate funds

The Food Fund awards subsidies in four categories: Bára, Kelda, Afurð, and Fjársjóður.

Bára supports projects at the idea stage. Eligible grantees include companies that have been founded over the past five years, along with entrepreneurs that want to develop ideas, raw materials, or processes related to Icelandic food manufacture.

Kelda supports projects that aim to acquire knowledge in support of the fund’s aims of innovation, sustainability, value creation, and the competitiveness of Iceland as a food manufacturer.

Afurð supports projects that are beyond the idea phase but are not yet ready to go to market. Subsidies aim to afford grantees opportunities to develop products from raw materials created during the manufacturing process and that are conducive to the creation of value.

Fjársjóður supports projects that aim to support Iceland’s marketing infrastructure and that support marketing campaigns for products connected to Icelandic food manufacture.

As noted on the government’s website, the aim of the Food Fund is to support innovation in the field of food production and processing,whether agricultural or marine-product related. The fund emphasises innovation, sustainability, value-creation, and the competitiveness of Icelandic food products.

New Technology for Prawn Fishing Uses Light to Reduce Emissions

An Icelandic company has developed a technology for prawn fishing that uses light to herd prawn up from the sea floor. This allows the fishing equipment to remain off the sea floor, leading to less disturbance of the environment and lower emissions than conventional trawling. The technology is set to be put on the market soon.

Herding prawn with light

“We are developing the next generation of fishing equipment. Fishing equipment that can fly close to the bottom without touching the bottom. Then we have a light that herds,” Halla Jónsdóttir, founder of Optitog, told RÚV reporters. Optitog has named this patented light beam technology “Virtual Trawl” and has data that shows that it results in higher yields, compared to using the equipment with the light off.

“We have a special light that forms a sort of wall or line in the sea and we see that it works to herd [the prawn].” The prawn swims ahead of the light, up off the sea floor and into the nets. It’s possible to set the equipment so that it travels a consistent distance above the sea floor, for example 30 centimetres [11.8 inches].

Lower emissions

Because Optitog’s equipment does not trawl along the sea floor, it encounters 30% less resistance than conventional trawling, meaning the method drastically reduces fuel consumption. By leaving the sea floor largely undisturbed, the new technology also reduces CO2 emissions caused by disturbing organic material on the bottom of the ocean.

Halla says that a Norwegian party is working to put Optitog on the market as an environmentally-friendly fishing technology. Halla believes the technology could be applied to fishing other species.

Iceland’s Tuna Quota Mostly Unused

Between 20 and 30 Japanese tuna fishing ships have been fishing just outside the borders of Icelandic waters, indicating that there is enough tuna for fishing within Icelandic jurisdiction, RÚV reports. Icelandic authorities release a tuna fishing quota, but it has rarely been used in recent years. Icelandic fishermen would need to acquire special ships in order to make tuna fishing commercially viable.

Japanese ships have fished for tuna in the North Atlantic for decades, but how far north they venture varies. Around 15-20 years ago, it was common for Japanese ships to dock in Reykjavík harbour for provisions. According to information from the Icelandic Coast Guard, some of the Japanese ships that have been fishing near the Icelandic jurisdiction in recent years have been granted permission to enter into Icelandic waters due to weather and sea conditions.

Quota mostly unused

The quota given this year is 225 tonnes and it is mostly unused. Fishing company Vísir, based in Grindavík, Southwest Iceland, is one of the few Icelandic companies that has fished tuna, and did so for three years. “Not everyone agreed that it was profitable but we enjoyed it and gained valuable experience in those three years,” states the company’s CEO Pétur Hafsteinn Pálsson. “As fun as it was in the beginning, the excitement wore off when the weather started to worsen and the catch to decrease, [the tuna] seemed to swim out again and didn’t come as near to land.”

Specially-designed ships required

Vísir used wet fish trawlers to fish tuna, slightly adapting them for the purpose. The fish were sent to Japan by air. Now that the tuna is further from land, specially-equipped freezer trawlers would be required to store the fish, and no such ships are currently available in Iceland. “First of all you have to freeze it at a much lower temperature than a regular fishing boat can do, so you need both a very low temperature and quick freezing,” Pétur stated. While tuna fishing isn’t entirely out of the picture sometime in the future, the pandemic has delayed all such projects in the industry.

Lumpfish Season Starts Next Week Amid Catch Quota Uncertainty

lumpfish

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.

Glettingur
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.