Grounded Research Vessel in Westfjords Successfully Refloated

A research vessel that ran aground in Tálknafjörður at around 10 PM last night has been refloated. An investigation into the incident is underway.

Weather conditions calm and favourable

At 9:12 PM yesterday, a report was received by the Coast Guard control centre that the research vessel Bjarni Sæmundsson, of the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute, had run aground at Sveinseyri, Tálknafjörður in the Westfjords of Iceland.

The Coast Guard’s helicopter unit, along with the rescue vessel from the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR), and other ships, were dispatched to the scene. There were twenty people on board when the ship ran aground. For maximum safety, it was decided to reduce the number of passengers on board, and thus, eight passengers were evacuated.

The Coast Guard’s helicopter was on standby at Tálknafjörður. The weather conditions at the grounding site were calm and favourable. With the aid of the rescue ship Vörður, along with fishing vessels Fosnafjord and Fosnakongen, the ship was refloated at 11:26 PM during high tide and subsequently moved to a pier in Tálknafjörður. An investigation into the circumstances of the grounding is being conducted by the Transport Accident Investigation Committee (RNSA).

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.

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.

Dolphin Species Never Before Seen in Iceland Beaches in Northwest

Two dolphins of a species never before seen in Iceland washed ashore in Hrútafjörður in Northwest Iceland last week. RÚV reports that the carcasses of both mammals were collected yesterday by a biologist at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, who says it is not unlikely that the animals were drawn north by warming seas.

One of the dolphins was already dead when it washed ashore. The other beached itself trying to follow its companion. The second dolphin was not going to survive and so was euthanized under the advisement of a veterinarian just before the weekend.

The dolphins were both Risso’s dolphins, sometimes called gray dolphins. Their remains were collected by biologist Sverrir Daníel Halldórsson, who will conduct autopsies on both. Sverrir Daníel says he’s found no evidence that Risso’s dolphins have ever been observed around Iceland before, although they have been seen around the Faroe Islands.

“It’s a warm-water species,” he explained. “They’re found a bit to the east of Ireland and Northwest Scotland. But the largest number is found further south, in warmer seas.”

Sverrir Daníel thinks the dolphins were most likely drawn out of their natural habitat and so far to the north by warmer currents. Both animals appeared quite emaciated, he said. “It could be that they wandered off course and couldn’t find any food.”

Agreement on Long-Awaited New Research Vessel Signed

Research Vessel

The Marine & Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) will receive a new research vessel in 2024. Yesterday, the institute’s director signed an agreement with government ministers and the Spanish contractor Astilleros Armón.

Plans approved in June 2018

In June 2018, on the centenary of Iceland’s sovereignty, Parliament approved a bill granting the Minister of Fisheries the authority to initiate preparations for the construction of a new research vessel for the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI). The new vessel would replace Bjarni Sæmundsson HF-030, which was constructed in 1970. The MFRI would continue to use Árni Friðriksson, a much younger vessel, built in 2000.

Yesterday, Þorsteinn Sigurðsson, the Director of the MFRI, signed an agreement with Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson; Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir; and an unnamed representative from the Spanish shipbuilding company Astilleros Armón for the construction of the new research vessel.

“This is a milestone in the history of marine research in Iceland,” Þorsteinn stated in an interview with Mbl.is yesterday. According to the director, discussions regarding the construction of a new research vessel began around the turn of the century. At the time, a decision was made to refit Bjarni Sæmundsson, with the repairs expected to last until 2012.

Yesterday, the MFRI signed an agreement for the long-awaited new vessel. Construction is expected to take 30 months. If all goes according to plan, the vessel will arrive in Iceland in the fall of 2024.

ISK 4.8 billion tender

As noted by Mbl.is, an emphasis will be placed on fuel efficiency and environmentally friendliness in the construction of the new vessel. It will be 70 metres long and 12 metres wide. Skipasýn has spent the past three years designing the ship. It also oversaw the tendering process. The ship will be built by Astilleros Armón, which made the lowest offer of three Spanish yards that tendered for the build, or ISK 4.8 billion ($37 million / €33.5 million).

Reduction of Capelin Quota May Be Necessary

capelin loðna fishing

New measurements of capelin stocks from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) suggest that it might be necessary to reduce capelin quotas for the ongoing season by around 100,000 tonnes. This year’s quota was set at 904,200 tonnes and has not been higher in decades. MFRI’s final decision is expected by mid-February.

In October 2021, the MFRI set a capelin catch quota for the 2021-2022 season at 904,000 tonnes following the autumn research expeditions. This quota was sevenfold that of the previous season’s quota, and a dramatic shift from 2019 and 2020, when no capelin catch quota was issued at all. The total landings of the 2020-2021 fishing year amounted to about 128,600 tonnes, among the lowest catches since 1980. Still, its export value amounted to 20 billion ISK [$154,500,000, €133,140,000].

Research vessels Árni Friðriksson and Bjarni Sæmundsson recently completed an expedition to assess the state of capelin stocks. The data collected suggest a total catch quota of 800,000 tonnes, which would be a 11% reduction from the previously issued quota. The recommendation is based on measurements taken off the Northeast, East, and Southeast coasts. Sea ice delayed measurements in the Westfjords region, which are expected to be done next week. A final quota recommendation will be issued after that expedition is complete.

Capelin fishing has gone well this season, with two ships breaking records for the largest ever catch in Iceland.

A New Clam in Town

Razor clams are the newest addition to Iceland’s resident fauna, RÚV reports. Researchers believe that the bivalves, which got their name in English from their long skinny shape, sharp edges, and resemblance to old fashioned straight razors, were brought to Iceland in the bilge water of cargo ships. Razor clams are known in Icelandic as sindraskel (pl. sindraskeljar).

The first razor clams, dead, were found on a shore in Hafnarfjörður on New Year’s Eve 2020. A few days later, a live clam was found near the mouth of the Hafnarár river in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland. This is the first time razor clams have been found in Iceland, excepting an isolated incident in 1957, when one was found on the other side of the country, on Lónsfjörður in East Iceland. But up until now, no other razor clams have been found in the country. Six species of razor clam can, however, be found elsewhere in the North Atlantic.

Researchers believe that razor clams were brought to Iceland in the bilge water of cargo ships from the east coast of North America, most likely five to ten years ago.

“If alien species are able to establish themselves in new environments, it’s possible in some cases that they could cause damage to the preexisting ecosystem,” explains a new study published by researchers at the Icelandic Museum of Natural History. “Monitoring the razor clam is, therefore, important.” The museum is currently conducting a study on the razor clam population in Iceland in collaboration with the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, Matís, the Southwest Iceland Nature Research Centre, and Canada’s Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Center.

Capelin Catch Quotas Increased Again

first capelin in two years arriving in Eskifjörður

The Iceland Freshwater and Marine Research Institute has suggested that capelin catch quotas be increased to 127,000 tonnes. This is their final advisory estimate, based on two extensive research expeditions they consider to cover all areas of spawning capelin. The highly valuable capelin fishing resumed recently after a two-year break.

Extensive research expeditions

During the two expeditions, the IFMRI estimated that the size of the capelin spawning stock around Iceland is 650,000 tonnes. Earlier expeditions indicated that there was less capelin in Icelandic waters, leading to a smaller catch quota being issued.

In the first expedition, three ships searched for capelin January 17-20 giving data for the area south of 65°N but bad weather and sea ice affected the search north of the country. On January 26-30, a total of eight ships covered the area off the Westfjords, as well as north and northeast of Iceland.

Together, these two expeditions covered the complete area where capelin spawns. This was not the case in the December and early January expeditions so the previous data gathered does not affect this final counsel.

Suggestions for catch quotas are based on that there’s a 95% chance that the spawning stock in March will be over 150,000 tonnes considering predation. According to the latest data, the total suggested catch quotas will be 127,300 tonnes in the winter of 2020/2021 and replaces earlier catch quota suggestions.

There’s always money in the capelin stand

This is great news for Iceland’s fishing industry as capelin is a valuable fish, according to the Landsbankinn economic analysis. In the years 2012-2018, its export value was second only to Iceland’s most valuable export, cod. Capelin fishing can affect Iceland’s economy greatly, so much so that when smaller capelin quotas than anticipated were issued, Landsbankinn lowered its GDP growth forecast for 2021 from 3.4 to 3.3 %. The largest part of the capelin catch is sold to Norway in the form of fishmeal, and second-largest to Japan, which buys a substantial amount of capelin roe.

First capelin in two years

For two years in a row, no capelin quotas were issued to protect the stock. This hit particularly hard in fishing towns outside the capital area, such as in Vestmannaeyjar islands off Iceland’s south coast. The town holds about a third of the country’s capelin quotas. Mayor Íris Róbertsdóttir told RÚV that she was pleased and happy that capelin fishing was back on the agenda. They would, of course, have preferred to have even larger catch quotas, but were happy that they could resume continuity for capelin markets and keep the trade open.

The first capelin caught after the two-year break was landed January 30 in Eskifjörður, when the Greenlandic ship Polar Amaroq brought 700 tonnes of frozen capelin. According to a notice from Síldarvinnslan seafood company, the capelin looked good. There were about 40 fish to the kilo and some krill.

 

Capelin Catch Quotas Raised Three Times

overfishing iceland

Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) has raised its capelin catch quota for the 2020-2021 season, advising that catch should not exceed 61,000 tonnes. MFRI originally issued a catch limit of 21,800 tonnes in December, then raising it to 54,200 tonnes on January 22. The quota was raised a third time on January 24, to 61,000 tonnes, after a mistake in the calculations of capelin stock sizes was discovered. Fishing and processing of capelin is a key pillar of industry in many small communities across Iceland.

Iceland’s capelin stock was assessed to be in decline over the last two years, a development experts have linked to rising ocean temperatures. No capelin quota was given out in 2019 after stocks were found to be too low. In South Iceland’s Westman Islands, that decision that impacted 350 employees directly and led to a loss of wages of at least ISK 1 billion ($7.9m/€7.25m). Several other communities in Iceland rely on capelin: in East Iceland, the municipality of Fjarðarbyggð received and processed 47% of Iceland’s capelin catch in 2018.

The results of one expedition in December and two in January have given an estimate that mature capelin (those capable of spawning) will exceed 150,000 tonnes in March 2021, taking into account predation. Together, the measurements reduce uncertainty in stock assessments, leading to the MFRI’s current catch quota of 61,000 tonnes.

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.”