Government Publishes First-Ever Joint Policy on Land Reclamation and Reforestation

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has released the Icelandic government’s first-ever joint policy on land reclamation and reforestation. This per a press release on the government’s website on Friday.

The plans for land reclamation and reforestation look ahead to 2031, but the primary action plan covers 2022-2026 and will shape the government’s priorities in these areas for the coming years. The action plan calls for research on the impacts of land reclamation, reforestation, and the restoration of biodiversity in the wetlands, as well as the creation of new quality criteria for reforestation land selection, and an evaluation of carbon balancing for emissions accounting. Another primary objective aims to restore the ecosystems of disturbed lands, wetlands, and both natural and newly cultivated forests.

In her capacity as Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s focus is on the protection, proliferation, and integrity of Iceland’s ecosystems, reads the press release. She also seeks to promote nature-based solutions in climate matters, as well as solutions that are in line with international agreements, support sustainable land use, increase knowledge, cooperation, and public health, and promote sustainable development in rural Iceland.

“I place a lot of emphasis on food production that’s based on sustainable development, whether that’s at land or at sea,” remarked Svandís. “With this plan, land reclamation and reforestation both contribute to sustainable development of communities all around the country. There will be employment opportunities in richer natural resources and development will be built on a sustainable foundation.”

See Also: New Report Examines Food Self-Sufficiency in Five Nordic Island Societies

The policy has been prepared in accordance with recent laws on land reclamation, forests, and reforestation and outlines the government’s vision for the future in these areas, as well as its core values and attendant priorities. The policy is also guided by developments at the international level and Iceland’s international agreements with the United Nations and other global organizations.

It has been in the works since 2019, when project boards were appointed with the task of formulating proposals for both a land reclamation and a national forestry plan. The two boards presented their proposals at an open forum in spring 2021, after which, the proposals were submitted to the Ministry along with an environmental assessment and a summary of the main comments received. The full policies, both the long-term 2031 plan and the 2022-2026 action plan, are available on the government website.

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.”

EU to Threaten Sanctions Against Iceland and Greenland Over Mackerel Dispute

The Chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee Chris Davies has stated that the EU might take action against Iceland and Greenland if the countries won’t back down from increasing their mackerel catch unilaterally. According to Davies, the committee will convene early next month to discuss sanctions and Icelandic officials will be invited to the meeting. Icelandic fisheries officials claim the threats are a surprising waste of energy that could be spent negotiating and that excluding Russia from the sanctions is cowardly.

Read more about: Contentious Mackerel Quota Negotiations

Iceland intends to increase its share of mackerel from 108,000 tonnes to 140,000 tonnes, while Greenland intends to increase its quota by 18 %, to just over 70,000 tonnes. Davies has called these plans “despicable”. Davies told I News, “ “I think it’s despicable. This isn’t the way partnerships work. The whole point is that stocks are shared fairly.”

He went on to say: “I will meet the European Commission on 4 September to discuss taking action. We don’t want a repeat of the cod wars. We want to understand how to work together. But we will press ahead with sanctions to protect our interests if need be. It’s on the agenda.”

Unfair that Iceland should shoulder all the responsibility  

The Ministry of Fisheries replied to RÚV earlier this month that Iceland was being kept from the mackerel quota negotiations as the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands were making all the decisions on the future of the mackerel stock. Repeated attempts to reconcile and Iceland’s willingness to negotiate hadn’t been successful. Furthermore, the ministry stated that Iceland’s mackerel fishing was both justified and responsible. “Fishing more than is advised by scientists is a serious matter but the responsibility can’t be shouldered entirely by Iceland. It’s an unfair demand that one state unilaterally decreases fishing.”

Excluding Russia from sanctions shows lack of courage

Kristján Freyr Helgason, chairman of the Icelandic delegation to the Fisheries Committee, pointed out in an interview with RÚV that it’s surprising that Russia is to be exempt from these intended sanctions. In addition, it’s strange to accuse Iceland of irresponsible fishing when the EU and the two states caught twice the advised amount of mackerel.

Kristján claims that the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands have kept Iceland from negotiations on mackerel quotas for five years and only allotted a small share of the quota to the countries outside their agreement.

“They’ve taken a very hard stance. They renewed the agreement last year without changes and without accepting new parties to the negotiations. They keep leaving 15.6%, which, according to their decision, amounts to 102,000 tonnes this year. That’s nowhere near enough for the three parties that are left, the coastal states of Iceland and Greenland and the fishing nation of Russia. It’s furthermore surprising that they only intend to introduce sanctions against Iceland and Greenland, as Russia announced July 18 that they would increase their quota by 16500 tonnes. It doesn’t show a lot of courage to threaten Iceland and Greenland but leave Russia out of it.” Kristján stated.

Threats are a waste of energy

Accusing Iceland of irresponsible fishing is a long shot, according to Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. Threatening Iceland with sanctions over mackerel fishing is an anachronism and that energy would be put to better use by negotiating. Iceland won’t be left out while other nations fish from the mackerel stock they share.

In response to Davies’ threat, Kristján stated, “I’ve invited the good MP to visit Iceland and go over our arguments and get to know our side of the issue. I haven’t received any response to my invitation, but I assume it will be accepted, as in my mind, it’s an anachronism to spend time arguing and making threats when you can focus that energy into negotiations.”

He went on to say, “It’s interesting that an EU spokesperson makes these accusations, as, unlike Iceland,  they aren’t exactly known for responsible fisheries management.”

One man’s opinion

The threat of sanctions is surprising to the director of Fisheries Iceland Jens Garðar Helgason as Iceland hasn’t been invited to negotiate the quotas along with the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands. “I’m certain this would affect Icelandic fisheries noticeably. Even if [Davies] is making these suggestions, it still has to go through the whole process of the EU. So, at a glance, it looks to me like one man’s opinion and he’s going to try to make this happen. But I’m certain that the party nations and the EU will agree on how to split the quota and this might nudge people to get down to the negotiating table. I hope it will.” Says Jens.



Risk Assessment Finds Four-Week Pet Quarantine Unnecessary

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) is currently considering whether or not to change the quarantine rules for imported dogs and cats, RÚV reports. A recent risk assessment survey conducted on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture has concluded that dogs and cats imported from Northern Europe and the UK, where most animals imported to Iceland come from, needn’t be quarantined at all. Disease control in these places is considered sufficient to make the risk of contamination negligible. The assessment also found that animals from other countries could safely be quarantined for two weeks, instead of the currently required four.

Former Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir commissioned Denmark’s former Chief Veterinarian to conduct the risk assessment, which has been two years in the making.

Per the interpretation of Herdís Hallmarsdóttir, the chair of the Icelandic Kennel Club, the assessment proves that the current quarantine rules for all dogs and cats imported to the country is “outdated.” She says that “…the results confirm what we have been saying for a long time—that there is no objective or scientific basis that justifies a four-week isolation period for dogs.”

At the very least, Herdís says, the results of the assessment should lead to new flexibility for animals coming from Northern Europe and the UK. “I would like to see different rules depending on where the animals are coming from,” she said.

Current Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson says that no decision will be made on changing the quarantine period for cats and dogs until MAST and the Icelandic Kennel Club both comment on the risk assessment. MAST would also need to determine how exactly the rules would be changed. This is not expected to be done before May, at the earliest.