Never Fewer Accidents at Sea

iceland fishing

While it can seem that bad news is coming from all directions these days, good news is to be found at sea.

2021 saw the fewest accidents at sea reported to the Social Insurance Administration and Icelandic Health Insurance since an incident registry for the fishing industry was established in 1966, reports.

There were 108 incidents at sea reported in 2021, down from 153 in 2020 and 227 in 2019. Records from the Icelandic Transport Authority show there were 286 reported incidents the year the registry began.

2021 was the fifth year in a row that no Icelander died at sea.

The single worst year for the safety of Icelandic seafarers was 1989, when a total of 631 incidents at sea were registered. Overall, the number of cases began to decrease a few years after the Fishermen’s Accident Prevention School was established in 1985.

Thanks to the vigilance of the fishermen

Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of the Association of Companies in the Fisheries Sector, told MBL she chalks the decrease in accidents up to the vigilance of fishermen and increased awareness of the importance of safety at sea.

She said fisheries companies have taken security issues seriously, pointing out that investments in new vessels have resulted in better working and living conditions at sea. “There are many factors contributing to this success, but first and foremost, I think it is the crew themselves who deserve the biggest share of the credit here,” Heiðrún Lind said.

Insurance costs should fall for the fishing industry

Chairman of the Icelandic Seamen’s Association Valmundur Valmundsson said he is pleased with the latest numbers but added, “We can always do better, preferably, so there are no accidents at sea.”

“Seafarers should be able to walk home safely from work. That is the goal of all of us who work on these issues,” he said.

Valmundur said he hopes that increased safety at sea will reduce insurance costs for the fishing industry.

Mackerel War On the Cards As Iceland Increases Quota?

The fishing of mackerel in the North Atlantic is a contested international issue as experts believe the fish is at danger of overfishing. Chris Davies, head of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, stated that a “mackerel war” could threaten the future of Scottish fishermen after Icelandic authorities increased the mackerel quota in the country. Iceland is kept away from negotiations as Icelandic authorities’ attempts to reach an agreement have been unsuccessful, according to Icelandic authorities. The decision to increase the mackerel quote has raised attention in the Shetland Islands, where local news outlets Shetland Times and Shetland News have covered the issue. Icelandic authorities have been accused of putting the valuable mackerel stock at risk in order to solve their financial problems in the short term.

Mackerel fishing has been hotly contested in the last near-decade or so, as Norway and the European Union have been unhappy with Iceland’s magnitude of mackerel fishing. Mackerel started appearing within Iceland’s territorial waters in large numbers in recent years, which is largely attributed to the warming of the seas in connection with global warming. The mackerel fishing quota in Icelandic fishing territory was increased from 108,000 tons to 140,000 tons this past June, in a decision by Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson. The decision was a unilateral one by the Icelandic government as Iceland has not been admitted to the negotiations regarding the division of the mackerel quota in the North-Atlantic. The increase from 108,000 to 140,000 tons takes heed of the total catch of mackerel fishing nations in the North Atlantic rather than the total quota attributed to the nations. All of the mackerel fishing nations, including Norway and European Union nations which hunt in the North-Atlantic, have exceeded their share of the quota in recent years.

Decision irks Shetlanders
The Shetland Islands is a Scottish archipelago which relies heavily on the fishing industry. The aforementioned Davies met with representatives from the Shetland Fishermen’s Associations last week and spoke after the meeting. “Partnership is essential if shared fish stocks are to be managed sustainably. Iceland’s actions are greedy and irresponsible. They are not those of a friendly nation, let alone of a country that is part of the European economic area. I welcome the fact that, despite all the talk of Brexit, the European Commission is acting strongly in defence of Scottish fishermen, and I will ensure that this issue is debated as soon as the European Parliament meets again.”

Beatrice Wishart, the Shetland’s Liberal Democrat candidate for the Scottish Parliament, stressed the importance of mackerel fishing for Shetlanders. “It was good to have the chair of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee in Shetland to hear about the relationship with Iceland over mackerel stocks. His determination that the Commission follows through on their strong rhetoric when it comes to Iceland is exactly the reassurances our fishing community needs. This is enormously important to Shetland. We already know all too well the consequences of a deal done badly, not least because we have had to live with consequences of the last one.”

Unfair demand?
Icelandic news outlet RÚV reached out to the Ministry of Industries and Innovation for comments regarding Davies’ statement. The ministry’s press officer stated that Icelandic authorities and the European Union had been in contact regarding mackerel fishing, most recently in early August. “Iceland has been kept from the negotiation table. Repeated settlement proceedings and Icelanders’ willingness to reach an agreement have been unsuccessful,” part of the statement read. The way the ministry sees it, Iceland’s share of the mackerel quota is both legitimate and responsible. “Hunting beyond scientific advice is a serious issue, but it is not right to lay the burden solely on Iceland’s shoulders. It is an unfair demand for one state to unilaterally decrease fishing,”

Mackerel in the North-Atlantic
In 2011, Norway and the European Union reached a conclusion about mackerel quota in the North Atlantic, placing the figure at 646,000 tons to be divided between fishing nations in the area. At the time, it was decided that Iceland should receive 4% of the total quota, numbering 26,000 tons. However, Icelandic authorities had already released a permit for the fishing of a total of 147,000 tons, which was 22.75% of the total North Atlantic quota rather than the aforementioned 4%. In the past, mackerel only wandered into Iceland’s territorial waters from time to time. In the 90s, mackerel started appearing more regularly before whole swathes started appearing after 2005. In 2010, it is believed that over a 1,000,000 tons of mackerel entered Iceland’s territorial waters. Icelandic authorities first released an official mackerel quota in 2006, to the tune of 4,200 tons. Iceland’s mackerel fishing took a jump year to year, from 36,000 tons in 2007 to 112,000 tons in 2008. Since then, Icelanders have fished mackerel in similar numbers, reaching a high point of 170,000 tons in 2014. As Iceland increased its mackerel quota from year to year, the European Union placed sanctions on its fishing industry as it barred Icelandic vessels from landing mackerel catch in EU ports.

Mackerel quota of Norway, 2019: 164,000 tons
Mackerel fishing in Scotland, 2018: 153,000 tons

No conclusive agreement has been reached regarding mackerel fishing, as mackerel fishing nations continue to fish at a rate higher than suggested by The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). ICES concluded in September 2018 that mackerel was being overfished. Therefore, the ICES suggested that mackerel quota should not exceed 318,000 tons for 2019, for all mackerel fishing nations. This number was 42% lower than the 2018 quota, which was 550,948 tons. The total suggested quota had previously stood at 857,000 tons in 2017. However, all of the mackerel fishing nations unilaterally set their own quotas in 2018, totalling more than 1,000,000 tons of mackerel in total.

The ICES later revised the number for 2019, and the set total mackerel quota at 770,000 tons, more than double the original amount they suggested. This was, however, a 20% reduction from 2018. The revised number is due to miscalculated projections, and the mackerel stock in the North Atlantic has a better standing than originally thought. However, an Icelandic specialist at the Marine Research Institute has warned of the future if mackerel fishing in the North Atlantic continues at a similar rate. “We have been warning authorities about the overfishing which has taken place in the last decade or so. We’ve been lucky with replenishment rates. It is clear, however, that the stocks are diminishing. By these actions, not only those of Icelanders but also other fishing nations, where we are overfishing exceeding recommendations, the stock will diminish and fishing will have to be reduced significantly,” said Þorsteinn Sigurðsson, director of the pelagic ecosystem department of the Icelandic Marine Research Institute.

What next?
Right now, it appears mackerel fishing nations will continue to decide their mackerel quota unilaterally. Meanwhile, specialists warn of the dangers of overfishing. It appears that mackerel grounds are shifting due to the warming of the ocean, and the number of mackerel within Iceland’s territorial waters has increased significantly in recent years. The right to fish a migratory species such as the mackerel will always be hotly contested. It is one of the most valuable quota species landed in the EU economic zone, as the total value of mackerel fishing in the North Atlantic is estimated at one billion €. Therefore, it’s not likely that any party will give in anytime soon. It’s clear a bi-lateral mackerel agreement needs to be agreed to as soon as possible, in order to protect the valuable stock. The question remains: Who does the mackerel belong to?

Langoustine Numbers at Record Low

Numbers of langoustine around Iceland have plummeted, RÚV reports. Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute suggests an 80% reduction in harvesting between years.

If MFRI’s suggestions will be heeded, the langoustine quota will be reduced to 235 tons this year. Furthermore, langoustine fishing will get banned in Lónsdjúp and Jökuldjúpi to protect young langoustine. The institution also suggests a total ban against fishing with a bottom trawl in selected parts of Breiðarmerkurdjúp, Hornfjarðardjúp and Lónsdjúp, to alleviate strain on langoustine stock.

Last year’s fishing season the quota was 1.150 tons, which was an all-time low at that time. Despite this, only 728 tons were caught, another record low for Iceland’s fishing industry since steady langoustine fishing commenced in the 1960s. Most langoustine was caught in 2010, around 2.500 tons, which was double the amount caught in 2004. Over the past years, numbers have been falling rapidly.

MFRI’s report says that the density of langoustine spots is among the lowest they know or about 0.07 langoustine holes per square meter. Furthermore, the report indicates that numbers among new generations of langoustine are dwindling, and have been critically low since 2005. “If practices don’t change we can expect a further reduction in langoustine numbers,” the report concludes.

Sea Cucumber Company Receives Innovation Award

Aurora Seafood catches and processes sea cucumbers in the seas surrounding Iceland. The company received the Svifalda (Gliding wave) award for being a progressive and innovative business at The Seafood Conference Iceland this past weekend, Vísir reports. The annual conference was held in Harpa music and conference hall between November 15 and 16.

“We are the only European nation that catches sea cucumbers in some magnitude, the catch is probably going to reach six thousand tons this year. That’s a whole bunch,” said Davíð Freyr Jónsson, Aurora Seafood’s manager.

“We founded fishery and started to meddle in this business for real in 2016, but the first experimental fishing was done in 2003. We were laying low for a long time, but now the operation has begun to plant roots. We applied for funding from the European Union which we received last year, around ISK 200 million [$1.62 million, €1.42 million]. The funding went towards developing fishing gear and develop this machine for which we received the award,” Davíð stated.

Davíð says he is a landlubber who has converted to the seafaring lifestyle. “I’m raised in Fljótsdalshérað district but I have a captain’s certificate for all ships up to twelve metres long.” Such small boats aren’t a great fit for sea cucumber fishing, so a larger ship by the name of Klettur ÍS was purchased. The main fishing grounds for sea cucumbers in Icelandic waters is to the east and west of the country.

Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, especially China. It’s considered a status food, eaten on special occasions and to honour guests. Rich in nutrients, sea cucumbers bear the name haishen, which can be translated as ‘ginseng of the sea’. Although sea cucumbers are mainly eaten in Asia, Icelanders also consume them, but often in another form. “Many Icelander use sea cucumber products themselves, maybe without knowing, in tablets to combat joint pain,” said Davíð.

The sea cucumbers are not processed by Aurora Seafood themselves as the processing is outsourced to a man in Stokkseyri. The fishing is performed by special traps which are dragged across the ocean floor. “We, of course, try to ensure that they cause as little a disturbance as possible,” Davíð stated. “It was an honour to receive the award. It’s confirmation that what we’re doing is interesting to others,” Davíð stated.