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.

Policy Aims to Promote Transparency in Iceland’s Fishing Industry

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

A new government initiative spearheaded by Svandís Svavarsdóttir, head of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, aims to bring comprehensive policy reforms and transparency to the fishing industry.

The initiative, entitled Auðlindin Okkar (Our Resource), arose out of several working groups that were commissioned earlier in the year in line with the Agreement on the Platform for the Coalition Government between the Independence Party, the Left Green Movement, and the Progressive Party. In the coalition charter, it states the following regarding fisheries:

“A committee will be appointed to map the challenges and opportunities in fisheries and related sectors and to assess the macroeconomic benefits of the fisheries management system. The committee will be tasked with comparing the situation in Iceland and abroad and submitting proposals to maximise Icelanders’ potential for further success and societal consensus on the framework of the sector. The committee will also discuss how transparency in fisheries companies’ operations can be increased, especially among the country’s largest companies. In addition, the committee will evaluate the success of employment and regional quotas and summer inshore handline fishing in supporting the rural economy.”

In the estimation of these working groups, the time has come for a new approach.

Read more: Working Groups to Overhaul Iceland’s Fisheries Legislation

Earlier this year, Svandís stated that “there is a deep feeling of injustice among the public […] I think that feeling stems mainly from two things; the consolidation of quota and the feeling that the profits from the shared resource of the people are not divided fairly. The aim of this work is therefore efficient and sustainable utilisation of marine resources in harmony with the environment and society.”

Now, Our Resource aims to shine daylight on a very powerful sector of the Icelandic economy that some say borders on oligarchy. There are, for instance, just four companies that collectively own 60% of all Iceland’s fishing quota: Samherji, Brim, KS, and Ísfélagið.

A central aim of the initiative will be a thorough mapping of the management and ownership of Iceland’s major fishing concerns. Many details of the property relations in these concerns remain in the dark, and Our Resource hopes to be able to better supervise the industry. According to the government website, “[t]he inspection is primarily intended to increase transparency and improve administration in the field of monitoring management and ownership relationships in the maritime industry. The examination includes the collection of information and the mapping of the property relationships of fishing companies that have been allocated a certain amount of fishing permits and the influence of fishing company owners through the exercise of voting rights and board seats in companies.”

This initial mapping report on the industry is to be published by December 31, 2022.

Capelin Quota Lowered to 218,000 Tonnes

capelin loðna fishing

In a recent report from the Maritime Research Institute, the advised capelin quota was lowered to 218,400 tonnes, significantly less than hoped-for projections of 400,000 tonnes.

The new recommendation replaces the previous, more optimistic, recommendation which was based on numbers of immature capelin from 2021.

Read more: Capelin Quota Increased by 50,000 Tonnes

Now, new data is available from the research ships Árni Friðriksson and Tarajoq, which took echo measurements of the capelin population between Iceland and Greenland between August 27 and September 29.

The total population was estimated to be 1.1 million tonnes, with a spawning stock of around 763,000 tonnes.

Some fishermen are nevertheless optimistic, as many years have been entirely without capelin. Of the past 13 years, 7 have seen no initial capelin quota issued.

Read more: Reduction of Capelin Quota May Be Necessary

Although the lowered quota has been a disappointment for fishermen, if favourable market prices prevail, the capelin catch could still net ISK 30-35 billion.

However, the quota is still subject to revision and will be updated after new figures are available in January and February of 2023.

In an interview with RÚV, Gunnþór Ingvason, director of the Neskaupstaður herring processing plant, stated that “the problem is this uncertainty. If the quota increase comes late in the season, then it’s very expensive to have put all the ships away for winter.”


Regional Division of Coastal Fishing Quotas May Be Reinstated

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir would like to make the coastal fishing system fairer, not least by reinstating a regional division of fishing quotas, RÚV reports.

According to the National Association of Small Boat Owners, 700 boats caught 11,000 tons of cod during Iceland’s costal fishing season this year, as well as 1,500 tons of coalfish (also called pollock), and 105 tons of other catch. On average, 656 kilos [1446 lbs] of cod were caught per fishing trip, which is a 6% increase over last year.

Fish prices have never been higher than they are this summer. The average price for cod is 23% higher than it was last year; coalfish is currently priced an astounding 85% higher than it was in 2021.

Nevertheless, the costal fishing season was short—only 46 days—and ended last Friday, about a month earlier than planned. This decision has been widely criticized with some saying that the sea is full of fish that may not be caught.

Not everyone getting their fair share

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir says that the season ended “sooner than we would have liked,” and said the decision to end the season last week had to do with how much fish had been caught overall. But she recognizes that under the terms of the current system, coastal fishermen are not all on equal footing with one another. As such, it is her intention to reinstate the regional division of fishing quotas.

“That will make it more likely that everyone gets their cut,” she explained, “as opposed to when the entire country is defined as one region.” Under the current arrangement, some fishermen are able to catch their fair share, she continued, “especially in the north and east.”

Current system not a failure, but ‘far too complicated’

Under the current quota system, coastal fishing quotas make up 5% of the total catch. In the long term, Svandís says she’d like to see the coastal fishing quota make up a larger part of the overall quota. She was not, however, prepared to quote a particular figure at this time.

Asked if she considered the current fishing system a failure, Svandís said no, but she did concede that it’s a very complicated one. “It’s far too complicated; it can be simplified and clarified and I think that when we’re thinking about simplifying it and clarifying it, we also need to [give some thought to] making it more equitable.”

Proposed Re-Introduction of Coastal Fishing Zoning Comes Under Critique

fishing in Iceland

The National Association of Small Boat Owners has critiqued the resumption of zoning, reports RÚV.

The critique comes in light of the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s recent decision to raise the cod quota for coastal fishermen. 

Although the decision has been praised as a victory for small fishermen and rural communities, many fear it is not enough. Additionally, Svandís has announced her intention to introduce legislation this Fall that would reinstate the zoning system.

Under the current system, the coastal fishing quota is spread across the entire country. Because of the seasonal migrations of coastal fish stocks, fishermen in certain parts of Iceland can begin fishing earlier, leaving less valuable fish for other communities. The Northeast of Iceland has been especially affected, with some fishermen even having to change residence to have access to the more valuable fishing grounds.

The regional zoning system was originally in effect from 2009 to 2017. Örn Pálsson, president of the National Association of Small Boat Owners, says that the current system, which guarantees 12 days of fishing for every boat, has proven to be safer. In his opinion, Svandís’ proposed legislation would represent a step backwards.

Svandís, however, has stated that the current quota system has failed to help precisely those whom it was meant to serve: small fishermen and rural communities.

Coastal Fishing Quota Raised 1,074 Tonnes

Iceland fishing quota reform

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, has raised the coastal fishing quota for cod by 1,074 tonnes in a recent government announcement. Coastal fishing allowances were first introduced fourteen years ago to aid independent fishermen, most of whom live outside the capital area.

The new, enlarged coastal fishing quota now represents some 5% of Iceland’s overall cod catch, the highest ever allotment of cod for coastal fisheries. For the past few seasons, the catch quotas have been fulfilled long before the end of the season and small boat owners have called for an increase in allotments.

The increased share of cod was won in exchange for 874 tonnes of mackerel, 50 tonnes of recreational fishing, and 150 tonnes of longline fishing concession, a special category within the quota system which incentivizes the use of longline fishing over trawling and net fishing.

Svandís recently criticized the current coastal fishing quota system in an editorial in Morgunblaðið. While the past fourteen years have shown the benefits of the system, including increased financial stability for rural fishing communities, improved recruitment to the profession, and a higher-quality product, Svandís emphasized the reliance of many families and rural communities on coastal fishing and how the current system has worked against precisely the communities it was intended to serve. Stating that many fishermen had already pointed out the dangers of the regional quota system in 2019, she claims that the time for this experiment is over.

According to Svandís, the current system has incentivized fishermen to move out of poorer fisheries, and this migration has caused the fishing season to end early too many times.

The increased pot for coastal fishermen is seen as a victory for families and rural communities. In a statement to Morgunblaðið, Örn Pálsson, president of the National Association of Small Boat Owners, said that he welcomed the reform but that even these increased numbers may not suffice for the season if catches continue at their current level.


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)

Verbúðin Wins Big at Göteborg Film Festival

Icelandic TV series Verbúðin (English title: Blackport) won the 2022 Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize at the Göteborg Film Festival this week, RÚV reports. The award is given for “outstanding writing of a Nordic drama series” and is accompanied by a prize of NOK 200,000 [ISK 2.85 million; $22,824]. This year’s nominees included Countrymen (Norway; written by Izer Aliu, Anne Bjørnstad), Transport (Finland; written by Auli Mantila), The Shift (Denmark; written by Lone Scherfig), and Vi i villa (Sweden; written by Tove Eriksen Hillblom).

Set in the Westfjords in the 1980s, the story follows a married couple, Harpa and Grimur, as they build a small fishing empire along with their childhood friends. But with the introduction of a new quota system in the country, where the fishing grounds are privatised, the struggle for power results in a feud of jealousy, greed and betrayal.

Hailed as the buzziest TV series to come out of Iceland since Trapped, Verbúðin has indeed already garnered a great deal of international interest, despite the fact that it has not yet been widely broadcast for the international public. Vesturport produced the show for RÚV in Iceland and Arte France, and has production backing from the UK’s Turbine Studios, the Nordic 12 TV Alliance and the Nordisk Film & TV Fond. Prior to its success at Göteborg, it won the Series Mania Award at the Berlinale Co-Pro Series pitching event in 2018 and was also a hit at the Spanish Serielizados TV festival last fall.

Verbúðin has also been extremely popular with audiences at home—80% audience approval according to some figures. But the positive foreign reception of this particularly Icelandic story has been particularly surprising for the creators, says Mikael Torfason, who co-wrote the script with two members of the Vesturport theatre and film company who also star in the series: Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir (The Vallhalla Murders, Trapped), Björn Hlynur Haraldsson (Trapped, The Witcher), and Gísli Örn Garðarsson (Ragnarok, Prisoners). “This is maybe not something you’d expect. The most popular material has usually been crime dramas.”



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.

Five Seafood Companies Withdraw From Lawsuit Against Icelandic State

Fishing Harbour

Five seafood companies have decided to withdraw from a joint lawsuit against the Icelandic state due to a dispute over the allocation of mackerel quotas between 2011-2018, RÚV reports. Seven companies had decided to jointly sue the state, demanding over ISK 10 billion ($69.6 million/€63.9 million) in compensation. A statement from the five companies says the decision was made due to the impact COVID-19 will have on the Icelandic treasury.

Eskja, Gjörgur, Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja, Loðnuvinnslan, and Skinney-Þinganes are the five companies that have dropped out of the joint lawsuit. A statement from Supreme Court Attorney Sigurbjörn Magnússon on behalf of the five companies says the COVID-19 pandemic will have a profound effect on Iceland’s treasury and the entire Icelandic community.

“Widespread solidarity and mettle have characterised the community in the past weeks and months. Now everyone needs to work together,” the statement reads. “For this reason, the five undersigned fishing companies have decided to waive their claims against the Icelandic state.”

The seven companies (the final two being Vinnslustöðin and Huginn ehf.) filed the lawsuit last year, claiming that the state’s mackerel quota distribution between 2011-2018 was based on incorrect information and led to losses for the companies. Two Supreme Court rulings in 2018 recognised the state’s liability for damages Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja and Huginn ehf. believed to have incurred due to how the quota was distributed between 2011-2014.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson stated earlier this week that he was optimistic the state would win the case, but in the unlikely situation that it did not, the damages would not be paid using tax money, rather would be financed via the fishing industry itself.