Coastal Fishermen Oppose Lumpfish Quotas


Coastal fishermen in Patreksfjörður, the Westfjords, oppose the introduction of quotas for lumpfish, RÚV reports. They say the current system can be improved without resorting to a quota system. Previous experience shows that quotas consolidate in the hands of few owners, the fishermen state.

Arguments for quota don’t hold water

Gunnar Ingvi Bjarnason stated that the current coastal fishing system is accessible to newcomers, with a licence costing just ISK 22,000 [$160, €147]. “If a quota system is set up, people will have to buy quota,” he stated. Einar Helgason of the coastal fishing association Krókur, based in Patreksfjörður, says that coastal fishermen are generally against quotas and that the arguments for setting a lumpfish quota are weak. According to Einar, lumpfish are not a species that is overfished, which is what quota systems are put in place to prevent.

Gunnar Ingvi adds that quota setting will not address the issue of bycatch, another concern expressed by authorities.

Read More: Taking Stock of Iceland’s Coastal Fishing Industry

The coastal fishing system was established 16 years ago with the goal of creating opportunities for smaller, independent fishers. It is not based around a quota system like open-sea fishing is in Iceland and has a relatively low cost of entry. Coastal fishing has a positive economic effect on many rural areas across Iceland.

Coastal Fishermen Face Shortest Season Ever if Quota is Not Increased

Iceland’s Association of Small Boat Owners (Landssamband smábátaeiganda) has sent a formal request to the Minister of Fisheries calling on her to increase the coastal fishing quota for this year by 4,000 tonnes. The coastal fishing season is intended to last from May until August, but so far this year 72% of the cod quota has already been caught. If additional quota is not added, this coastal fishing season could turn out to be the shortest ever, leaving some 726 fishermen out of work and impacting secondary jobs in harbours and fish processing.

Not enough quota for independent fishermen

Iceland’s current coastal fishing system was implemented 15 years ago with the aim to give smaller, independent fishermen a path into the industry. The number of boats with coastal quota grew from 663 last year to 726 this year, and the number of fishermen has increased steadily in recent years, likely due to a significant increase in fish prices. This year the cod quota set aside for coastal fishing is 10,000 tonnes, 5% of the total annual quota. For the number of coastal fishermen wanting to partake, that quota is not enough. Last year, the quota ran out in mid-July and based on current catch amounts, it could run out even earlier this season.

East Iceland disproportionately affected

When quota runs out early in the season, it affects Iceland’s regions disproportionately, as the cod arrives to the western regions earlier in the season before travelling north and east later in the summer. If the quota is finished before the fish complete their loop around the island, fishermen in East Iceland can miss out on the season entirely. The Association of Small Boat Owners pointed out that increasing the quota for this season would ensure equal distribution of quota between regions.

Cod stocks are in good shape

The latest figures on cod stocks from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute show that the fish is in good shape, and the Association of Small Boat Owners assert that there is room to add up to 7,000 tonnes to the cod quota without negatively impacting fish stocks. The association also points out that it is unlikely for the largest companies on the market to reach the total allowable catch quota as there are summer vacations and closures ahead at the country’s largest fish processing plants.

Read more about coastal fishing in Iceland.

Give a Man a Fish

It’s just after six in the morning and Guðmundur Geirdal is pouring his first cup of coffee. It’s spring, so the sun has already been up for a couple of hours but a light veiling of clouds means that there’s a fresh snap to the air. Down by the Arnarstapi harbour, the squeaky cries of the seabirds are loud enough to drown out the murmured chatting of the other fishermen preparing their boats for the day.

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Fishing Industry Parties Sign 10-Year Collective Agreement

Fish processing workers preparing salt cod

Four seafood industry unions signed a 10-year collective agreement with Fisheries Iceland (Samtök fyrirtækja í sjávarútvegi, or SFS) last night. The new agreement emphasises wage hikes in line with those of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS), a rise in pension contributions, and increased safety and health for workers. Workers will vote on the agreement in the coming weeks, but negotiators on all sides have expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

On the Icelandic labour market, collective agreements are often negotiated for 2-3 year periods. According to Vísir, the newly-signed fishing industry agreement could be the longest in Icelandic history. Four unions are signatories to the agreement with SFS: the Association of Shipmasters (Félag skipstjórnarmanna), the Seamen’s Association of Iceland (Sjómannasamband Íslands), the Seamen’s and Engineers’ Association of Grindavík (Sjómanna- og vélstjórafélag Grindavíkur) and the VM Association of Engineers and Metal Technicians (VM Félag vélstjóra og máltæknimanna).

The last collective agreement between these parties expired three years ago, and previous negotiations, last held in 2021, proved unsuccessful. The parties began negotiating again at the start of this year and now have an agreement to show for it. Chairman of the Seamen’s Association of Iceland Valmundur Valmundsson said the mood among negotiators was positive and called the agreement a watershed for workers in the industry, which ensured wage hikes in line with hikes on the general labour market as well as better pension benefits. The agreement also establishes a special safety committee to increase emphasis on the health and safety of workers at sea.

The Icelandic seafood industry is one of the country’s key industries, employing around 7,500 people or approximately 3.9% of the workforce. The seafood industry contributes around 8% directly to Iceland’s GDP, but its indirect contributions are much greater. Marine products account for 43% of the value of Iceland’s exported goods.

A Fisherman by Any Other Name: Terminology in New Law Sparks Debate

overfishing iceland

A new law regarding ships’ crews that went into effect at the beginning of the month is sparking considerable debate throughout Iceland, but not because of the content of the law. Rather, critics have taken issue with the choice of wording in it, namely the use of the word fiskari, most easily translatable as ‘fisher,’ in lieu of the term fiskimaður, which literally means ‘fisher+man.’, RÚV, and Vísir have all reported.

Critics, including some in the industry and current or former politicians, have called the word choice an example of the sterilization of Icelandic, or even an example of the language’s slide into nýlenska, or Orwellian Newspeak. Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor emeritus in Icelandic Language and Linguistics at the University of Iceland, takes a different view, however, noting that the word fiskari is actually a centuries-old Icelandic word and one that was in use long before modern debates about gender neutrality in language.

Law aims to ‘promote equal access of the sexes to education, training, and jobs aboard Icelandic ships’

According to the text of the “Law concerning ships’ crews,” 2022 nr. 82, its aim is to “ensure the safety of crews, passengers, and ships, and increase protections against the pollution of the seas. These goals will be achieved by making certain mandates about the education and training, age, sailing time, health, vision, and hearing of those who work onboard and in so doing ensure the professional competence of crews based on the size of the ship, its role, and its area of operation.”

This overview goes on to say that the law “is intended to promote equal access of the sexes to education, training, and jobs aboard Icelandic ships.” It then includes an extensive  definition of terms, in which it defines a fiskari as “he or she who works or is hired to work on a fishing vessel…harbour pilots, law enforcement officers, other parties in staff positions working with the public, employees on land who perform work onboard fishing vessels, or fishing inspectors are not considered to be fishers.”

It is worth noting that while the word fiskari is being interpreted by critics as inherently gender-neutral because it does not make use of the suffix –maður, meaning ‘man’ (-menn in the plural), fiskari is still a masculine-gendered word in Icelandic. [Note: Icelandic has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.] It is also worth noting that in the Icelandic, the above-quoted definition also includes the use of three additional masculine-gendered terms for different roles/jobs: hafnsögumenn (harbour pilots); starfsmenn (employees); eftirlitsmenn (inspectors).

‘The most ‘woke’ government in the history of Iceland’

Critics, some of whom work within the industry, were quick to voice their dissatisfaction with the word choice.

Fiskari is a malaprop in my opinion,” said Valmundur Valmundsson, the chair of the Icelandic Seamen’s Association. “Sjómannadagurinn [Fishermen’s Day] is never going to be called Fiskaradagurinn [Fishers’ Day].” Eiríkur Óli Dagbjartsson, fishing manager of the Grindavík-based fishing company Þorbjörn hf. felt similarly, telling Morgunblaðið that he thought the shift to the word fiskari was “preposterous.”

Current and former politicians have also taken to social media to voice their dissatisfaction. Former Prime Minister and chair of the Centre Party Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson wrote a Facebook post in which he said the use of the word fiskari was part of the “PC-powers’ ongoing attempt to turn Icelandic into Newspeak, in the manner of Orwell” and fretted that “the most ‘woke’ government in the history of Iceland will hardly stop with this.”

“It used to be common knowledge that women were also -menn [the plural form of maður, men],” Sigmundur Davíð continued. “That knowledge seems to be getting lost now, as can be observed from the strange explanations of those who think the change [i.e. removing the suffix -maður] is an important step in equality issues.” Sigmundur Davíð then concluded his post by listing off a number of job titles that incorporate the suffix -maður [-man] and which he said were at risk of falling victim next, i.e. that talsmaður [spokesman] might be converted to talari [speaker/spokesperson].

‘It is important to respect their origin and traditional usage’

In a post on Facebook, former Social Democratic Alliance MP, now a professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Bifröst University, Ólina Kjerúlf Þorvarðardóttir said she could hardly formulate a response.

“The words that we use are something other, something more, than just sterile units of meaning, cut and dried,” she wrote. “If that were the case, we couldn’t talk about a living language, about creative manners of expression. Our words are laden with feeling, the way we see life, our circumstances, our history and culture.

“The word ‘sjómaður’ has deep-seated emotional implications for many Icelanders, who are familiar with our nation’s struggle for survival over the centuries. Some job titles are compound words using the word ‘maður’ [-man]—flugmaður [pilot], hermaður [soldier], etc—and others aren’t—kennari [teacher], læknir [doctor], prestur [pastor]. It’s well and good that words aren’t all formed in the same way. It is more important, I think, to respect their origin and traditional usage, instead of bending and buckling…the language [according to] some puritanical policy about how words should be created.”

Ólina continued: “Sterlization in linguistics is, at best, indifference and incomprehension, and at worst, hostility: to creation, history, and emotion.”

The word fiskari dates back to the 16th century

What the overriding criticism belies, however, is the word fiskari enjoys a long history and centuries-old usage in Iceland. “This word dates back to the 16th century at least,” says Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor emeritus in Icelandic Language and Linguistics at the University of Iceland. “It was in the first book that was printed in Iceland, Oddur Gottskálksson’s translation of the New Testament.”

“According to the sources I’ve looked at, it seems that from the 16th century to the 19th century, this was the primary word used for [people who fish], much more common than the word fiskimaður.” Eiríkur points out that in the census from 1845, which recorded Icelanders’ occupations, around 150 people called themselves a fiskari, while only seven called themselves a fiskimaður.

Fiskari is used up until the 20th century,” says Eiríkur. After that, the word fell out of common use and the word fiskimaður became more prevalent. The most common useage, however, is the word sjómaður [seaman].”

(As an interesting corollary to Eiríkur’s points, one might consider these words’ frequency in the work of Halldór Laxness, the country’s sole Nobel Prize winner and a passionate advocate for the Icelandic language who is still considered one of its preeminent stylists and practitioners. Per data compiled in the comprehensive online Icelandic dictionary Snara, fiskari appears 20 times in his writings and fiskimaður appears with the exact same frequency: 20 times. The word sjómaður, on the other hand, appears some 65 times.)

Returning to the text of the law itself, Eiríkur points to the section where various terms are defined. “A number of words that are used in the law are clarified. In legal texts, it’s important that the meaning of words are clear. It is clear [in the text] that fiskari is a word for people who work on fishing vessels. This is to say, it’s a special term. It is common for legal texts and regulations to use words that have specific and set meanings, where other words are frequently used in everyday speech.”

Speaking to concerns related to the fate of other Icelandic words that end in –maður [-man], Eiríkur continues:

“Words that end in –maður have an undeniably strong connection to men in many people’s minds. In old rural society, there was a clear difference between male and female laborers,” he explains, giving the examples of the gender-specific words vinnumaður [working man] and vinnukona [working woman] and kaupamaður [merchant-man] and kaupakona [merchant-woman].

“For people who want to demasculinize the language, these words that end in –maður are much more masculine than other words that are grammatically masculine. People ask: why just this one? Why won’t other words that end in –maður be taken? The answer to this is maybe, first and foremost, that this word, fiskari, already existed. In this instance, there was an existing word that could be utilized, a synonym. There is no similar word for sjómaður [seaman] and farmaður [merchant sailor]. We have the word sjóari [seafarer, grammatically masculine but formed in the same way that fiskari is formed; more implicitly gender-neutral], but it’s completely different [in meaning] than the word sjómaður.” [Note: the word sjóari implies that the individual in question is a very experienced sailor, comparable to ‘old salt’ in English.]

By using the word fiskari in the text of the new law, lawmakers are reviving an old, existing Icelandic word, says Eiríkur, something that can’t fairly be considered malapropism or ‘incorrect’ language. Language necessarily changes and morphs over time, he says, through common use. “Isn’t that the very definition of ‘correct’ language?” he asks. “That it’s the language people speak?”

Search Continues for Fisherman Who Fell Overboard

The Icelandic Coast Guard defended Iceland during the Cod Wars

The search continues for a sailor who fell overboard a fishing vessel just outside the Faxaflói Bay on Friday afternoon. RÚV reports that the search and rescue operation is the most extensive of its kind in years, with eight ships and one of the Coast Guard’s helicopters currently taking part.

Ships went out in search of the man as soon as the Coast Guard got word of his accident at around 5:00 pm on Friday. At the time, two helicopters, the Coast Guard’s patrol ship Þór, and 14 fishing vessels and search and rescue boats joined the search. The majority of the search was paused just before 1:00 am on Saturday morning, although the patrol ship Þór continued to look overnight.

The search resumed in full at 10:00 am on Sunday morning; one of the Coast Guard’s helicopters joined in around 11:00 am. Given the time that had passed since the sailor fell overboard, the search area was expanded to a radius of ten nautical miles to the northwest of the Garðskagi peninsula.

Guðmundur Birkir Agnarsson, the Coast Guard’s operations manager, said that search conditions on Sunday were worse than they were the day before, with stronger winds and waves, and more limited visibility. At time of writing, the sea temperature in Faxaflói Bay was about 5°C [41°F].

Accidents at sea have, thankfully, become far less common than they used to be in Iceland. “Over the last few years, we haven’t had any fatal accidents at sea, including with people falling overboard,” said Guðmundur Birkir. “So this probably the most extensive search we’ve had in recent years.”

Search and rescue efforts will continue until darkness falls, Guðmundur Birkir confirmed, although he did not say how efforts would continue if the missing man had not been found by then.

Read more about how Icelandic fishermen are trained to stay safe.

Anglers Caught Over 45,000 Salmon in Icelandic Rivers This Year

salmon fishing iceland

A record 45,300 salmon were caught by anglers in Iceland this year. New figures issued by the Marine and Freshwater Institute (MFI) show that this year’s catch is 8.5% higher than the average catch in Iceland for the last 48 years, or since 1974. Fishermen caught around 8,800 more salmon in Icelandic rivers this year than they did in 2021.

Several factors have likely contributed to the increase in this year’s salmon catch. For one, smolt stocking programs have supplemented the natural production of Icelandic rivers. Some fish are also counted more than once because they’re caught more than once; anglers will often release salmon back into the rivers once they’ve caught them. Overall, this year’s salmon catch was higher in all regions of the country except the Westfjords.

See Also: Record number of pink salmon caught in 2021

Wild salmon catches have been down over the last seven years, hitting a low in 2019, when around 24,000 wild salmon were caught. This summer, however, 27,800 wild salmon were caught, which marks a 21.7% increase over last year.

The number of salmon that will migrate in a given year depends on the success of a whole generation of fish: how many smolt migrate from rivers to the sea, then survive adulthood in the ocean and return to spawn. There’s been an increase in the number of salmon dying in the North Atlantic, although MFI says the exact reason for this is not known. Several explanations have been offered as possibilities, however, including climate change, bycatch, the impact of fish farming, and changes in freshwater habitats.

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.

No Fatal Accidents for Fishermen Fourth Year Running

Hilmar Snorrason - Iceland Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre

No fishermen died in an accident at work in the year 2020. For the past ten years, fatal accidents at sea average at less than one per year. Four sailors died in 2012 but since 2017, there hasn’t been a fatal accident. This is the fourth year in a row where no fatal accidents occur for fishermen and Hilmar Snorrason, director of the Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre, is happy with the results.

Read more on the Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre

What’s vital for this incredible success is the increased safety consciousness of fishermen, the fishing companies’ increased emphasis on security, and last but not least, the operation of the Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre. Education and training, as well as better weather forecasts, safer ships and rescue equipment, all work together to make fishermen safer at work, according to Hilmar. Sailors had fewer non-fatal accidents last year as well, with 153 reported accidents to the Icelandic Health Insurance in 2020. In 2019 the number was 172 and 204 in 2018. These numbers encompass both minor wounds and serious accidents.

While most of the numbers of accidents went down, there was a noticeable increase in boats and ships being towed to harbour, with 80 such events in 2020, compared to 18 the year before. Hilmar states that there’s no clear reason for the increase, but one possible explanation is that people are merely reporting such incidents more efficiently. There’s nothing to indicate the global pandemic has had any noticeable effect on sailor safety in the past year.

Hilmar is pleased with the results of the Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre’s work to increase safety at sea and the reduction of fatal accidents but warns that it doesn’t mean that people can start to relax now. “Maritime safety is not a temporary effort – it requires constant work and vigilance. While we celebrate our victories, we can’t forget how we got here.” In his opinion, the most important step fishermen and fishing companies can take is to perform regular risk assessments and minimise the risk of accidents before they occur.  He dreams that one day, we’ll have a year with no accidents at sea. “I think it’s possible. Just look at the success sailors have had so far.”

Iceland’s Lumpfish Season Cut Short By Fisheries Minister


Some fishermen have been left empty-handed by the government’s decision to cut the lumpfish season short, RÚV reports. The Fisheries Minister revoked all licenses for fishing of the species as of May 3. The reason was that fishermen had already nearly reached the quota of 4,646 tonnes recommended by the country’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI).

“This regulation is to ensure that fishing is in accordance with scientific advice and that is important for all parties concerned,” Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson is quoted as saying. Örn Pálsson, managing director of the National Union of Small Boat Owners (Landssamband smábátaeigenda), is unhappy about the decision, which he described as extremely unfortunate. Örn says the large lumpfish hauls this spring show MFRI’s quota underestimated the size of the stock this year.

Decision a blow to West Iceland

Most of the lumpfish already caught this year was landed in East Iceland, where the season begins earlier than in the west. In Breiðafjörður bay, West Iceland, the lumpfish season does not begin until late May, and authorities have acknowledged that by allowing fishermen in the region to apply for 15-day licences to fish the species this year if they did so in 2018 or 2019.

It’s small consolation for fishermen like Sigurður Friðrik Jónsson of Þingeyri in the Westfjords, who had prepared his boat for 44 days of fishing. Sigurður called the Fisheries Minister’s action an unfair blow, particularly to those who can’t start fishing until later in the season. “Those who can start early do so. Of course they’re hardy, they get theirs and then we’re left sitting here with our tail between our legs.”

The quota specifically applies to female lumpfish, or grásleppa, which are caught for their valuable roe. Males, which are significantly smaller, are known as rauðmagi.