Working Group in Response to Young Farmers’ Distress Call

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The Association of Young Farmers has demanded immediate government action to prevent a crisis within the field. In response, Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir has established a working group to propose possible solutions.

Looming bankruptcies and abandoned farms

Yesterday, the Association of Young Farmers (i.e. Samtök ungra bænda) convened a well-attended protest meeting in Kópavogur to address the critical situation within Icelandic agriculture.

Steinþór Logi Arnarsson, Chairman of the Association, called on the government to take immediate action to avert looming bankruptcies and a decline in the farming community.

Read More: Labour of Love (a magazine profile of a young farmer in North Iceland)

Minister responds with working group

In an interview with RÚV, the Minister acknowledged the difficult nature of the situation: “This is a profound problem, to some extent, and we see that current conditions may not be optimal,” Svandís remarked, referring, among other things, to livestock agreements. She also noted that the most pressing problems facing young farmers were high interest rates and inflation.

Svandís announced that she had appointed a working group of three ministry directors to analyse the problem and deliver recommendations in the coming weeks. She also stated that there was a consensus on the issue within the government. “There are incredible opportunities within Icelandic agriculture,” she observed. “We have a lot of water, we have a lot of land, and we have a lot of well-educated and industrious people. I want to participate in instilling courage and optimism in young farmers.”

Parliament Approves ISK 2.2 Billion for Aquaculture Oversight

fish farming iceland

Parliament has approved ISK 2.2 billion [$15.9 / €15 billion] in additional funding for aquaculture oversight, following concerns raised by the Icelandic National Audit Office, Mbl.is reports. Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir highlighted measures already taken, including the purchase of underwater drones for monitoring and stressed the importance of preventing fish escapes from pens.

Funding increased based on reviews by National Audit Office

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, has revealed that Parliament has approved additional funding for the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority in relation to aquaculture, amounting to about ISK 2.2 billion [$15.9 / €15 billion] over the next five years, Mbl.is reports.

“This funding was decided and granted, among other reasons, due to the concerns raised in the administrative review by the Icelandic National Audit Office. The Food and Veterinary Authority has already, ten days ago, advertised six permanent positions for inspectors and veterinarians who will oversee this,” Svandís stated yesterday in a special discussion before Parliament about the accidental release of farmed salmon from open-net farms, initiated by Lilja Rannveig Sigurgeirsdóttir from the Progressive Party.

Svandís stated that the Food and Veterinary Authority had already taken measures that didn’t require legislative changes, such as – as pointed out in the aforementioned reviews by the Audit Office – changes in procedures regarding oversight of accidental release, the monitoring of the amount of feed going into pens, and placing more emphasis on internal supervision. The Food and Veterinary Authority has also invested in two underwater drones that will be used for specialised monitoring.

“Regarding penalties for major accidental releases and deficient internal oversight,” Svandís stated, “the recent escapes are being addressed at the appropriate administrative levels, and I cannot comment on them specifically. However, I can say that penalties will be reviewed in the bill that will be introduced in Parliament later this winter, and in the discussion of the preparations for that bill. In my opinion, no deviations should be without consequences.”

Svandís further emphasised the importance of preventing escapes and stated that farmed fish should be kept inside pens, not outside of them.

Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling Ban

Páll Stefánsson. Whaling in Iceland, 2010

Local councils in West Iceland are urging the Minister of Fisheries to lift the ban on whaling implemented just one day before the season was set to begin. The last-minute decision has left some 200 employees of whaling company Hvalur hf. unexpectedly unemployed and will have a significant financial impact on the western region.

On June 20, Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir temporarily halted the hunting of fin whales until August 31. The decision followed on the heels of a report that found whaling breached Iceland’s animal welfare legislation. The ban was implemented to enable an investigation on whether it is possible to ensure that hunting conforms to the legislation.

Only one company, Hvalur hf., was set to hunt whales this season. The company is based in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland, and typically employs around 200 people, most from the region, at the height of the hunting season. Both the municipal council of Akranes and the local council of Hvalfjörður have encouraged the Fisheries Minister to lift the whaling ban.

Tax and income losses

The Municipal Council of Akranes (pop. 7,986) published a resolution criticising the timing of the decision. “The ban was unexpected and a curveball to many Akranes residents who were counting on employment and income during the summer whaling season,” the resolution reads. The council estimates that it will lose tens of millions of ISK (hundreds of thousands of dollars) in local tax income due to the decision, affecting its ability to finance services to residents. The council stated that the ministry should carry out investigations before making such an impactful decision, not the other way around.

The local council of Hvalfjörður has also published a short statement on the temporary whaling ban, stating that its financial impact is significant, both directly and indirectly. “Hvalfjörður’s local council is not taking a stance on whaling with this statement but urges the Minister of Food to reconsider her decision,” the statement concludes.

10,000 Tonnes of Cod to Coastal Fishing Pool

fishing in Iceland

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has signed a new regulation on coastal fishing allocating 10,000 tonnes of cod to the coastal fishing pool this season. The percentage of coastal fishing of the total permitted catch of cod is now almost five percent, which is similar to the fishing season of 2022, the first year that such a large part of the total permitted catch was allocated to coastal fishing.

The coastal fishing season is from May to August. The upcoming season is the 15th since coastal fishing was established. Coastal fishing in Icelandic is in part intended to open up opportunities for smaller, independent parties within the fishing industry.

Alþingi is currently reading a bill on amendments to the law on fisheries management due to the zoning of coastal fisheries. The bill was approved for submission by the government on February 24. The Ministry of Food underlined that if the bill is passed, it may be necessary to make changes to the 2023 coastal fishing regulation in accordance with legislation.

New Recommendations for Fishing Industry Reform

Börkur ship fishing

Working groups for “Our Resource,” a policy proposal to reform the Icelandic fishing industry through increased transparency and oversight, have submitted preliminary proposals to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries.

The submitted proposals are in line with Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision last May to begin reforming the Icelandic fishing industry from both an environmental and economic perspective. Now, the preliminary results are in.

New Regulatory Framework for Fishing Industry

The preliminary proposals, reached in consultation with experts, business partners, and the general population, are numerous, with some 60 proposals requiring further deliberation.

Limiting Discarded Bycatch

A major concern recognised by the new policy proposals is the extent of discarded bycatch produced by the Icelandic fishing industry.

Since the beginning of drone monitoring of the Icelandic fishing fleet in 2021, discarded bycatch has been recorded in ca. 40% of fishing boats, according to Heimildin.

In order to prevent excessive waste, incentives are needed to ensure that more of the catch comes ashore, while also not encouraging fishermen to catch beyond their quota limits. Current regulations allow for small amounts of bycatch to be brought ashore and sold on the market, with profits split between the fishers and the state. However, the recommendations for “Our Resource” note that often the incentives are not high enough and that large amounts of bycatch are wasted because the cost of bringing it to shore is simply too high.

Preliminary recommendations include increasing the proportion of the bycatch profit for the fishermen, which currently sits at 20%, in addition to introducing a standardized and coordinated weighing system. To this day, the Icelandic fishing industry lacks a uniform method of weighing catch.

The 5.3% System

The new proposals also recommend changes for small boat fishermen, who have struggled financially in the last decades to compete with the larger fishing concerns in Iceland: the so-called “Sea Barons,” whose fleets own large portions of the fishing quota.

A controversial recommendation includes abolishing the “5.3% system,” in which 5.3% of the total catch quota for different species of fish is reserved for coastal and small boat fishers. This system has been a lifeline for small rural communities, as it guarantees small-time fishermen a minimum amount of catch. However, new policy recommendations would instead place emphasis on other ways of developing rural communities. The 5.3% system has also been identified as a roadblock to technological progress within the industry.

Some have critiqued this possible change. Örn Pálsson director of the National Association of Small Boat Owners, stated to RÚV: “I don’t seriously believe that they will carry it through. The 5.3% system was developed in response to some of the mergers that have occurred, and continue to occur, between the largest fishing enterprises in the nation, which have driven many rural fish processors out of business […] There’s no question that things would be harder without the 5.3% system.”

Gender Equality in the Fishing Industry

The preliminary recommendations for “Our Resource” also include reforms to the gender imbalance within the Icelandic fishing industry.

Fishing has historically been a male-dominated industry. To this day, some 10% of Icelandic fishing enterprises employ no women at all, reports Heimildin.

However, women have come to increased prominence in middle management, accounting, and executive positions.

Proposals would seek to keep the gender balance, legally binding in other sectors of the Icelandic economy, at no more than 60% of male, female or non-binary.

Final proposals for “Our Resource” are expected to be presented to parliament by the spring of 2024. The preliminary proposals for the new regulation can be read here.

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.

Minister of Food Allocates ISK 584.6 Million from Food Fund

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, has allocated ISK 584.6 million ($4.2 million /€4.1 million) from the Food Fund (Matvælasjóður). Fifty-eights projects, from 211 applications in total, received grants.

Among the projects that received grants:

– The development of delicacies from lamb and sheep riblets
– A marketing initiative for the export of Icelandic whiskey
– A project to maximise the productivity of home food growing systems for local vegetable production
– Potable supplements made from Icelandic algae
– A system of supervision and certification for Icelandic salt-fish products
– Protein manufacturing from Icelandic grass
– The development of flavouring products from algae for oriental food
– Foal jerky and raw sausages

“The creativity and daring that Icelandic food manufacturers possess is a reason for rejoicing and goes to show that Iceland is on the right course as a food manufacturer. It’s also great to see that the gender ratio is almost even,” Svandís stated.

Four separate funds

The Food Fund awards subsidies in four categories: Bára, Kelda, Afurð, and Fjársjóður.

Bára supports projects at the idea stage. Eligible grantees include companies that have been founded over the past five years, along with entrepreneurs that want to develop ideas, raw materials, or processes related to Icelandic food manufacture.

Kelda supports projects that aim to acquire knowledge in support of the fund’s aims of innovation, sustainability, value creation, and the competitiveness of Iceland as a food manufacturer.

Afurð supports projects that are beyond the idea phase but are not yet ready to go to market. Subsidies aim to afford grantees opportunities to develop products from raw materials created during the manufacturing process and that are conducive to the creation of value.

Fjársjóður supports projects that aim to support Iceland’s marketing infrastructure and that support marketing campaigns for products connected to Icelandic food manufacture.

As noted on the government’s website, the aim of the Food Fund is to support innovation in the field of food production and processing,whether agricultural or marine-product related. The fund emphasises innovation, sustainability, value-creation, and the competitiveness of Icelandic food products.