Icelandic to Take Precedence on Keflavík Airport Signage

Keflavík Airport

The board of directors at Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland, has decided to renew the signage at Keflavík Airport so as to emphasise the Icelandic language; Isavia will foreground Icelandic on all instructional and informational signs at the airport.

The Icelandic Language Council

The Icelandic Language Council was established in 1964 and operates according to Article 6 of Law No. 61/2011 regarding the status of the Icelandic language and Icelandic sign language: “The role of the Icelandic Language Council shall be to provide public authorities with academically-informed advice on matters concerning the Icelandic language, and to make proposals to the Minister regarding language policy.”

The law also stipulates that the Council may “take the initiative to draw attention to both positive and negative aspects of the ways in which the Icelandic language is used in the public sphere.”

With a view to this provision of the law, the Icelandic Language Council has persistently drawn attention to the conspicuously anglicised signage at the Keflavík National Airport: “English is the primary language on almost all of the signs at the airport,” a journalist at RÚV writes, “with information in Icelandic playing a secondary role or none at all.”

Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Iceland, brought attention to the issue again after Icelandair announced that it would resume the custom of addressing passengers in Icelandic first, prior to reverting to other languages.

Isavia responded with reference to security concerns, but critics pushed back, noting that local languages were foregrounded in many international airports without such a thing being a cause of concern; Gaelic is foregrounded at Irish airports ahead of English.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir intervenes

An article on Mbl.is notes that Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, emphasised these concerns to the Board of Directors of Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland. According to Mbl.is, Lilja had “commented on the marginalisation of the Icelandic language at the airport at the time before reemphasising her concerns following Icelandair’s decision.” Lilja reached out to former minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson, the newly-elected Chairman of the Board for Isavia, who then raised the issue at a board meeting (see below entry:

“Concerns have been raised, and comments made, in public, by, among other parties, the board of the Icelandic Language Council in 2016 and 2017, regarding the use of language on informational and instructional signs at the Keflavík Airport. Isavia’s board discussed these issues in 2018. Over the recent days, criticism has resurfaced. In light of this criticism, Isavia’s board hsa agreed upon the following:

‘Extensive renovations are currently underway at Keflavík Airport. Alongside the current alterations, Isavia’s board of directors has decided to devise a plan to renew the airport’s signage, in phases, in the near future. During this renewal, the principle of ensuring the foregrounding of the Icelandic language on instructional and informational signs will be followed.’”

Home Slaughter of Lambs Legalised

sheep lambing Iceland

Minister of Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson has signed a regulation permitting farmers to slaughter their own lambs and goats on their farms and to distribute the meat themselves. Farmers were previously required to send livestock to slaughter at licensed slaughterhouses. The regulation has been in discussion for years and is one part of a 12-point action plan in support of farmers to meet the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s long been called for that farmers be allowed to slaughter sheep and goats on the farms themselves and distribute them on the market,” stated Kristján Þór. “Over the past two years, extensive work has been carried out in consultation with farmers and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) to find ways to authorise this production so that it meets food safety requirements and animal welfare and animal health are safeguarded. This change that we’re making today marks a turning point, as this change involves an important opportunity to strengthen value creation and farmers’ profits in the future.”

Last summer, the Minister signed a contract with the chairman of the National Association of Sheep Farmers to conduct a pilot project on home slaughter in the fall. The project went well overall and samples showed good results, though remote monitoring proved a challenge. The regulations, therefore, stipulate that publicly-employed veterinarians carry out health inspections both before and after slaughter, paid for by the state treasury.

MAST has prepared an explanatory booklet for farmers on the new regulation.

The measure should help farmers create more value, which has proven a struggle in recent years. Indeed, there have not been fewer sheep in Iceland since 1861. The relatively low price of lamb and changing consumer tastes are two of the factors that have led to farmers reducing numbers in their flocks or leaving the industry.

In Focus: Iceland’s Cabinet

Iceland is currently governed by Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s cabinet, made up of six men and five women from three different parties – the Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party, and the Progressive Party. All of the cabinet members also serve as members of parliament except Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson.

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Capelin Make a Comeback: Quota Suggested

The Iceland Marine and Freshwater Research Institute suggests that capelin catch quotas for this winter will be 21,800 tonnes instead of their previous suggestion that no capelin be caught this year, for the second season in a row. The MFRI’s suggestion will be revised once the result of further counts is in. 

Capelin stocks were assessed December 6-11, and the MFRI’s suggestions are based on that count. Last October, their suggestion was that no capelin be caught this year. The research vessels performing the count had good conditions although sea ice in the Greenland strait limited the count northwest of Iceland. The capelin west of Iceland was mostly adolescent, but the eastern part of the area under investigation had almost solely adult capelin. 

The estimated size of the spawning stock was 487.4 tonnes. The Research Institute’s advice is based on the 95% chance that the spawning stock will be over 150,000 tonnes this spring with allowances for predation. They suggest a catch quota of 21,00 tonnes, replacing their earlier suggestion of no catch at all. That would have made the 2020/21 season the second season in a row with no capelin fishing. Due to the capelin’s breeding habits, stock size can fluctuate greatly between years.  

The MFRI’s vessels will proceed with further stock counts in January and the quota suggestions will be revised on the grounds of the results. Capelin fishing is economically important for small towns outside the capital area. Last winter, Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson stated that a shortage would “impact the national economy and businesses and the communities in which they operate.”

High Approval Rating for Prime Minister

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

The majority of Icelanders, or just over 59%, approve of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. The finding was part of a recent Gallup poll measuring Icelanders approval of the current parliamentary cabinet.

Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir enjoys the next highest approval rating or 54%. Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, Minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation and Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir tie for third place at 46%. Next come Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance, at 43%, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Transport and Local Government, at 39%, and Áslaug Árna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Justice, at 37%.

Minister of the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson and Minister of Social Affairs and Equality Ásmundur Einar Daðason both had a 35% approval rating. There is a significant gap between all of the previous ministers and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Kristján Þór Júlíusson, who had the lowest approval rating by far, or only 10%.

The Gallup survey was conducted online from May 8-19, 2020. The total sample size was 3,075, with a response rate of 55.2%.

 

Iceland’s Lumpfish Season Cut Short By Fisheries Minister

Glettingur

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.

Glimmer of Hope from Latest Capelin Stock Numbers

capelin fishing

The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) released preliminary figures today of capelin stock measurements made between February 1 and 9. The total amount of spawning stock is 250,000 tonnes. That number is higher than January measurements, but more capelin needs to be found for the MFRI to recommend a fishing quota this season. Another research expedition will be made next week.

The second expedition found 64,000 tonnes more of capelin than the first, which the MFRI says warrants a third research expedition next week. The third expedition would still need to find at least 150,000 additional tonnes of capelin in order for the MFRI to give out a quota this season.

No capelin quota was given out in 2019 after stocks were found to be too low. In the Westman Islands (pop. 4,300), last year’s shortage impacted 350 employees directly and led to a loss of wages of at least ISK 1 billion ($7.9m/€7.25m), according to a new report. Another shortage would prove a second economic hit to towns around the country that rely on capelin fishing and processing.

Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson told Kjarninn he would be open to discussing the impact of another shortage on communities across the country and what measures could be taken. “If a capelin shortage occurs for the second year in a row, then there is full reason for the government to discuss how the situation could be addressed with these municipalities. Circumstances vary by municipality, but if the blow can be mitigated in some way then it’s a matter of course to review that.”

Shaping Up for A Second Season of Capelin Shortage

fisherman net

Research vessel Árni Friðriksson and four other ships returned from a 12-day expedition last Saturday, having found little sign of capelin in Icelandic waters. Expedition leader Birkir Bárðarson told Vísir he had never seen so little of the fish as on this trip.

Though another expedition is scheduled in February, it appears unlikely that the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute will recommend a capelin fishing quota this coming season. That would make 2020 the second year in a row that a capelin shortage hits the country.

Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson stated that a shortage would “impact the national economy and businesses and the communities in which they operate.” Experts have pointed to rising ocean temperatures as a possible cause for the decline in capelin stocks around Iceland. Kristján stated that the Icelandic government has allocated additional funding toward more research on the species.

A capelin shortage would prove a hard hit to communities around the country that rely on the fishing industry. The municipality of Fjarðarbyggð in East Iceland, for example, received and processed 47% of Iceland’s capelin catch in 2018. A shortage would mean wage decline and fewer jobs that would not only affect fishing companies but the local economy as a whole.

The effects of a capelin shortage are likely to stretch into the coming years. The majority of capelin, or 90%, spawn at the age of three years old, while around 10% spawn at the age of four. The fish then dies after spawning. This means that low numbers one year will generally mean low stocks three years later as well.

Anti-Corruption Protest on Austurvöllur Square Tomorrow

In the wake of the Samherji scandal, the Constitutional Society; Efling Trade-Union; the Icelandic Disability Alliance; the Women’s Association for a New Constitution; Gagnsæi, the Anti-Corruption Association; along with private citizens and guilds will be holding an anti-corruption protest on Austurvöllur square tomorrow. The protest will begin at 14:00.

Approximately 1,200 people have expressed interest in the protest on its Facebook page. Over 700 people intend on attending. The text on the page reads as follows:

“Citizens must take matters into their own hands! It’s up to us to decide whether we live in a democracy or a plutocracy.

Namibian citizens are robbed by a major Icelandic fishing company. Icelandic citizens are robbed by a major Icelandic fishing company, which has no qualms about bribery.

This theft occurs under the aegis of a dated Constitution, under an economy that places too much power in the hands of the wealthy, and under a political class that is too submissive to small and powerful fishing companies.”

Organisers demand that that Minister of Fisheries, Kristján Þór Júlíusson, resign; that Parliament legally adopt a new constitution, which was approved by referendum in 2012 (wherein natural resources are declared “national property”;  and that the profits from natural resources be pooled into a public fund dedicated to societal development and to ensure a decent standard of living for all.”

Katrín Oddsdóttir will preside over the protest. Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir (Chair of Efling Trade-Union), journalist Atli Þór Fanndal, and lawyer Þórður Már Jónsson will also be speaking. The band Hatari is slated to perform.

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

Overfishing?
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?