Coastal Fishermen Oppose Lumpfish Quotas

lumpfish

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.

Grindavík Businesses Call for More Access

A group of 144 Grindavík businesses have sent an appeal to Icelandic authorities calling for more access to the evacuated town so they can keep their operations running. The town’s municipal authorities have released a statement backing the call. If Grindavík businesses are forced to relocate elsewhere, it’s a death sentence for the community, locals say.

Three eruptions in three months

The town of Grindavík (pop. 3,800), on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, has been more or less evacuated since November 10, when powerful seismic activity damaged buildings are roads in and around the community. Crevasses formed by the activity now crisscross the town, making it dangerous to access certain areas. A worker who fell into a crevasse last month while attempting to repair it has not been found.

Since December, three eruptions have occurred near Grindavík. The second of these, in January, destroyed three houses at the north edge of the town, while the third, in February, flowed over the main road into Grindavík (Route 43). Seismic activity and historical data indicate that further eruptions can be expected in the area.

Fishing industry is main employer

“What all the companies have in common is that they have been very seriously damaged by all the access restrictions,” Pétur Hafsteinn Pálsson told RÚV. He is the CEO of Grindavík seafood company Vísir and acting spokesperson for the 144 businesses in question. “This appeal is primarily about taking matters into our own hands,” Pétur continues, saying that Grindavík contractors have been repairing crevasses across the town and would be able to manage greater access safely on their own, without deferring to authorities.

Pétur and other business owners say the town should be opened to businesses sooner after eruptions are over. “We think that the time between eruptions could have been utilised much better that it has been.” He adds, however, that safety must always be the top priority.

Town’s survival depends on businesses

Grindavík is one of the few towns on the southwest stretch of Iceland’s coast that has a harbour. The fishing industry is the town’s largest employer, with public service being the second largest. Municipal authorities in Grindavík have seconded businesses’ appeal with a statement of their own. “The situation is no longer emergency response, rather a long-term event and businesses have reached their limits and now need to begin creating goods rather than rescuing valuables.”

It is unclear whether or when Grindavík residents will be able to live in the town once more, and the government has offered to buy the homes of those who would prefer to relocate. The businesses’ appeal states, however: “In order for the town to have a chance to build up again, the businesses need to keep their lights on.”

Depositions Next in Samherji Case

Director of Samherji Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson

The office of the district public prosecutor has received all documents requested from Namibia related to its investigation into the Samherji scandal, District Prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson has confirmed with Heimildin. The final step will be depositions of Namibia-based individuals, many of whom are held in custody by Namibian authorities on bribery charges.

In the fall of 2019, the story broke that one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, Samherji, had allegedly bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes. The story was reported collaboratively by Kveikur, Stundin (now Heimildin), and Al Jazeera Investigates, after months of investigations sparked by the confessions of whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson, a former project manager for Samherji in Namibia.

Nine stand accused in Iceland

The district public prosecutor’s office began its investigation in November of 2019. Nine Icelandic individuals are being investigated, including Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, CEO of Samherji. He briefly stepped aside when the news broke, but returned as CEO shortly after. In Namibia, ten people have been charged with receiving bribes from Samherji in exchange for fishing quotas. Among them are two former ministers from the Namibian cabinet, the chairman of Fishcor, the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia, and its CEO.

Delays criticised

The prolonged investigation, now entering its fifth year, has been criticised, both by the Icelandic public and by the defendants. One of them, former Samherji General Counsel Arna McClure, filed a motion earlier this year, arguing that the case had been excessively delayed. The court did not grant the motion and she remains under investigation. In Namibia, court proceedings formally began last week, when a number of defendants were asked to enter their pleas regarding one aspect of the case. One after the other they refused to enter pleas, while their attorneys either didn’t show up or recused themselves.

Brim buys 10.83% of Iceland Seafood International

Golli. A Brim ship in Akranes, West Iceland

Icelandic seafood company Brim has bought a 10.83% share in Iceland Seafood International (ISI), RÚV reports. The purchase entails the entire share of Bjarni Ármannsson’s company Sjávarsýn in ISI. Bjarni is also the CEO of Iceland Seafood but is resigning from the position.

Even prior to the sale, Brim was one of Iceland’s largest and most profitable seafood companies. With this purchase, the company intends to strengthen its sales network in Europe. The sale was announced to the stock exchange last night, as both Brim and Iceland Seafood are listed on Nasdaq Iceland’s main market. Brim paid over ISK 1.6 billion [$11.7 million, €11 million] for the shares.

Sold for one thousand pounds after losses

Iceland Seafood has faced difficulties in operations recently. The company sustained considerable losses in the operations of its subsidiary Iceland Seafood UK, which was eventually sold to the Danish company Espersen for the small sum of one thousand pounds. Iceland Seafood’s loss in the first half of the year amounted to ISK 2.2 billion [$16 million, €15.1 million].

The share price in Iceland Seafood last weekend stood at ISK 5.3 [$0.04, €0.04] per share and had never been lower since the company went public four years ago. The price rose by 4.72% at the opening of the market this morning in a transaction worth ISK 22 million [$160,000, €151,000].

Brim to strengthen sales network

Iceland Seafood is one of the main exporters of seafood in Iceland and operates offices in seven countries in Europe, North America, and South America. According to Brim’s CEO Guðmundur Kristjánsson, this is exactly what Brim is looking for with the purchase. The goal is to strengthen Brim’s sales network, especially with regard to markets in Europe.

Bjarni Ármannsson will step down as Iceland Seafood’s CEO and will be replaced by Ægir Páll Friðbertsson, managing director of Brim.

43% of Iceland’s exported goods

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.

Consolidated wealth

Just four companies hold around 60% of Iceland’s fishing quota: Samherji, Brim, KS, and Ísfélagið. In 2021, Brim reported profits of ISK 11.3 billion [$88.8 million; €82.9 million].

In a column published in Morgunblaðið last year, Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated that the nation viewed the consolidation of fishing quota in so few hands as deeply unjust and that it felt that this collective resource was not distributed fairly.

Opposition MP and former Social-Democratic Alliance Chairman Logi Einarsson pointed out that the wealth in the fishing industry was leading to accumulated assets in unrelated sectors, such as the media, real estate, transport, grocery stores, energy, and even insurance and banking.

More Cod, Haddock, and Herring in 2023-2024 Fishing Season

coastal fishing boat

Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) has released advice on fishing opportunities for over 20 fish and invertebrate stocks in Icelandic waters for the 2023-2024 year. The recommendations include a 1% increase in the total allowable catch for cod, a 23% increase for haddock, and a 40% increase for herring, three key species for the Icelandic fishing industry. Fishing quotas issued by authorities are based on the MFRI’s recommendations.

More cod, haddock, and herring

The advised TAC (total allowable catch) for cod has been increased as there is a higher estimate of the reference biomass compared to the previous year. That mass is also expected to increase slightly in the next two or three years when the 2019 and 2020 cohorts of cod will be counted as adult fish. Those cohorts are estimated to be above average in terms of size. The 2023-2024 TAC for haddock will be 76,415 tonnes, a 23% increase from the previous year’s allowable catch, as the 2019-2021 cohorts are above average.

The stock size of the Icelandic summer spawning herring has increased following a period of constant decline between 2008 and 2019. Therefore, the advice for the 2023-2024 fishing year is 92,634 tonnes or a 40% increase from the previous fishing year’s TAC. Golden redfish advice represents a 62% increase from the previous year, but as recruitment in the species has been low, the advice is likely to decrease sharply in the coming years.

Less saithe and scallop and no beaked redfish

Recommendations for some fish and invertebrates have decreased compared to the previous fishing year, however. The advice for saithe, an important species for coastal fishermen, has been decreased by 7%. The total allowable catch for Iceland scallop has decreased by 19%, and the MFRI advises that no catch should be taken for demersal beaked redfish in the 2023-2024 year, as the stock is now estimated to be below the limit reference point for spawning stock biomass. It is not expect to recover in the near future.

The recommendations can be seen in full on the MFRI website.

Icelandic State Must Pay Compensation for Misallocating Quota

The Icelandic state must compensate seafood companies Vinnslustöðin and Huginn due to the misallocation of mackerel quota from 2011 to 2018, RÚV reports. The state has been ordered to pay ISK 1 billion [$7.1 million, €6.6 million] plus legal costs of ISK 25 million [$178,000, €166,000]. Vinnslustöðin CEO Sigurgeir Brynjar Kristgeirsson says the state could have avoided the expense by negotiating directly with the company but showed no interest in doing so.

“We were pioneers in this mackerel fishing, we found the mackerel and utilised it, and in legislation, it simply says that those who start and who find the fish, should get a larger portion when it comes to allocation and setting quota,” Sigurgeir stated. Both the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Supreme Court of Iceland came to the same conclusion. “The conclusion was that it was taken from us and given to others, who hadn’t contributed from the beginning.”

The Reykjavík District Court ruled in favour of the seafood companies in the case on Monday morning. Seven companies had originally submitted the claim for damages but five withdrew their lawsuits.

The mackerel quota which the case addresses was allocated by then-Minister of Fisheries Jón Bjarnason in 2010. Rather than allocating the entire quota to those who had experience, some was allocated to small boat fishermen and others in a pool for mid-size ships. Many immediately cast doubt on the legality of the allocation and the Supreme Court ruled that the state had broken the law: only those with previous experience fishing mackerel should have received quota.

Growing profits in few hands

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the seven companies who had initially sued were criticised by government officials for demanding ISK 10 billion in compensation from government coffers in the midst of a recession. As a result, five of the seven companies dropped their cases in 2020.

In a Facebook post about this week’s Reykjavík District Court ruling, Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson confirmed the state would appeal. If the seafood companies were to win the case, Bjarni added, he asserted that the compensation would be extracted from the seafood industry rather than taxpayers (presumably through raising taxes on seafood companies or similar measures).

The profits of Iceland’s 10 largest seafood companies grew by 50% in 2019 and continued growing throughout the pandemic, with the price of fish rising dramatically in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Vinnslustöðin bought Huginn in 2021 and is among Iceland’s ten largest seafood companies. Just four companies hold around 60% of Iceland’s fishing quota, which has sparked debate on the distribution of wealth in recent years.

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.

Net Profit

In 2021, when a lower capelin quota was issued in Iceland than had been anticipated, Landsbankinn bank lowered its GDP growth forecast for the year from 3.4 to 3.3%. Capelin may be a little fish, but as a key food source for many other marine species, it makes a big impact on Iceland’s economy and ecology. Commercially, capelin is one of the most important fish stocks in Iceland, accounting for around 13% of export earnings. Only cod brings in more, and it bears pointing out that cod is also dependent on capelin, which may account for up to 40% of its total food. 

Stocks of capelin in Icelandic waters have been volatile, making it difficult to predict or plan fishing seasons. The fish have a short life cycle, procreating only once before their ultimate demise, which makes the stock vulnerable to overfishing and changes in the marine environment. In 2019 and 2020, in accordance with the recommendations of Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, no capelin quota was issued at all, while last year’s catch amounted to nearly 600,000 tonnes. In recent years, however, capelin catch has averaged around 350,000 tonnes annually. The bulk of the quota is caught during four weeks in spring.

Capelin is often described as the most ecologically important fish species in Icelandic waters. It is the main source of food for Atlantic cod (another commercially important species in Iceland), and is also a food source for whales, seals, squid, mackerel, and seabirds.

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Icelandic boats began fishing capelin in the late 1960s when herring stocks in Icelandic waters collapsed.

 

Net Profit

Capelin is a small forage fish belonging to the smelt family and is found in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Arctic oceans. It is silver in colour and usually measures between 15-18 cm long [6-7 in].

Golli. A Brim ship in Akranes, West Iceland

About 80% of capelin caught in Iceland is used to produce fishmeal and oil, while a small amount (less than 20%) is used to produce roe for human consumption. The roe, called masago, is yellow in colour and is popularly used in sushi. 

Net Profit

Icelandic fishing boats caught some 477,000 tonnes of capelin last season, the full quota issued. This included around 20,000 tonnes of roe. The total value of the catch is estimated at around ISK 42-45 billion [$305 million, €280 million].

Up until the early 80s, Icelanders sometimes caught over a million tonnes of capelin in a single season. 

Net Profit

Despite being common in Icelandic fishing nets, capelin is not normally sold in local stores. Hólmgeir Einarsson, a seafood store owner in Reykjavík, decided to stock some this year and has so far sold over 200 kilos [440 lbs]. He says the primary purchasers have been immigrants, who are familiar with the fish from abroad. Some Reykjavík restaurants are also discovering this important fish.

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Icelandic capelin migrate seasonally. In spring and summer, they go north of the Icelandic mainland to feed in the plankton-rich waters between Greenland, Iceland, and Jan Mayen.

Net Profit

Due to rising sea temperatures, capelin has moved further north in search of colder waters. Young capelin now tend to dwell near and under the sea ice around Greenland, making stock sizes difficult to assess.

Climate change and changes in the ocean’s temperature have a direct effect on capelin behaviour. It’s one of the most direct effects of climate change Icelanders can expect in the coming years.

Net Profit

Tubs of roe ready for export.

The capelin season takes place in February and March. The window to catch roe-filled capelin before it spawns is even shorter, only around 20-25 days. In that time, a sailor on a capelin fishing boat can expect to earn an Icelandic worker’s annual salary. That is, if capelin catch quotas, and the weather, are favourable that year.

Net Profit

The capelin season takes place in February and March. The window to catch roe-filled capelin before it spawns is even shorter, only around 20-25 days. In that time, a sailor on a capelin fishing boat can expect to earn an Icelandic worker’s annual salary. That is, if capelin catch quotas, and the weather, are favourable that year.

Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, restaurateur at Brút in the Reykjavík city centre, occasionally serves roe-filled capelin.

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.

Rights of Fishermen Regularly Violated, According to Chairperson of Icelandic Seamen’s Association

fishing in Iceland

In a recent report by RÚV, Bergur Þorkelsson, chairperson of the Icelandic Seamen’s Association, states that the rights of seamen are regularly violated.

By law, seamen are allowed up to two months’ of wages if they fall ill or injured during their employment period. However, according to Bergur, “traditional” expectations in the fishing industry mean that it is often difficult for seamen to actually take the leave they are entitled to.

This was recently illustrated by the case of a seaman who lost his job after taking a sick leave, which he was legally entitled to, for mental health reasons.

Read more: Never Fewer Accidents at Sea

According to Bergur, the culture of the fishing industry in Iceland means that seamen are often stigmatized for taking their sick leave. In an industry that has traditionally been very dangerous, this is especially problematic, as seamen feeling able to take off when they are unwell is important for both the safety of the individual and crew. “This is a problem,” Bergur stated to RÚV. “Seamen are all on their own, and need to be tough guys who don’t bother anyone about anything. We get cases like this often. I haven’t seen anything about mental illness until this case, but it’s common for seamen to avoid applying for benefits for fear of losing their jobs.”

The violation of the legal rights of seamen is further complicated by the nature of their employment contracts. Because work in the fishing industry is seasonal, a seaman may not be directly let go because of illness. Instead, he may simply not be re-hired for the next season. This grey area allows fishing companies the ability to deny that they may be discriminating against seamen who are simply making use of their legal rights.

Many aspects of the Icelandic fishing industry are still very traditional. This is a problem, states Bergur, because in many cases, work contracts can be informal and verbal. Fishing companies may verbally promise fishermen to be re-hired, but when they spend some time ashore, they show up to work after several weeks and find they’ve been let go. In these cases, because the seaman are not even aware of their termination, they have not had the opportunity to look for employment elsewhere, which can severely undermine their job security.