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.

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.

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.