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.

Policy Aims to Promote Transparency in Iceland’s Fishing Industry

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

A new government initiative spearheaded by Svandís Svavarsdóttir, head of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, aims to bring comprehensive policy reforms and transparency to the fishing industry.

The initiative, entitled Auðlindin Okkar (Our Resource), arose out of several working groups that were commissioned earlier in the year in line with the Agreement on the Platform for the Coalition Government between the Independence Party, the Left Green Movement, and the Progressive Party. In the coalition charter, it states the following regarding fisheries:

“A committee will be appointed to map the challenges and opportunities in fisheries and related sectors and to assess the macroeconomic benefits of the fisheries management system. The committee will be tasked with comparing the situation in Iceland and abroad and submitting proposals to maximise Icelanders’ potential for further success and societal consensus on the framework of the sector. The committee will also discuss how transparency in fisheries companies’ operations can be increased, especially among the country’s largest companies. In addition, the committee will evaluate the success of employment and regional quotas and summer inshore handline fishing in supporting the rural economy.”

In the estimation of these working groups, the time has come for a new approach.

Read more: Working Groups to Overhaul Iceland’s Fisheries Legislation

Earlier this year, Svandís stated that “there is a deep feeling of injustice among the public […] I think that feeling stems mainly from two things; the consolidation of quota and the feeling that the profits from the shared resource of the people are not divided fairly. The aim of this work is therefore efficient and sustainable utilisation of marine resources in harmony with the environment and society.”

Now, Our Resource aims to shine daylight on a very powerful sector of the Icelandic economy that some say borders on oligarchy. There are, for instance, just four companies that collectively own 60% of all Iceland’s fishing quota: Samherji, Brim, KS, and Ísfélagið.

A central aim of the initiative will be a thorough mapping of the management and ownership of Iceland’s major fishing concerns. Many details of the property relations in these concerns remain in the dark, and Our Resource hopes to be able to better supervise the industry. According to the government website, “[t]he inspection is primarily intended to increase transparency and improve administration in the field of monitoring management and ownership relationships in the maritime industry. The examination includes the collection of information and the mapping of the property relationships of fishing companies that have been allocated a certain amount of fishing permits and the influence of fishing company owners through the exercise of voting rights and board seats in companies.”

This initial mapping report on the industry is to be published by December 31, 2022.

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.

Coastal Fishermen Unhappy With Reduced Cod Quota

overfishing iceland

Small boat fishermen in Iceland are unhappy with the government’s decision to reduce their cod fishing quota from 10,000 tonnes down to 8,500 for the coming summer season, Vísir reports. Arthúr Bogason, chairman of the National Union of Small Boat Owners (Landssamband smábátaeigenda) says the government has not provided any data to support the decision and hopes it will be reconsidered. A meeting with Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir on the matter was inconclusive.

Arthúr says he does not know whether the decision to reduce the quota was made in the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture or by the Directorate of Fisheries (Fiskistofa) but the union is working to find out. However, since the decision was made on December 21, the phone at the union office has not stopped ringing. He adds that the Left-Green Movement, the party to which Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir belongs, has supported coastal fishermen in the past and worked to improve their conditions. The decision comes across as change of direction from the party. Arthúr brought up the issue in a meeting with Svandís one week ago. He stated that although the discussion went well and the union expects fruitful collaboration with the incoming minister.

Last year a total of 670 fishermen held coastal fishing licences. Coastal fishing is not an easy job, according to Arthúr, but the number of fishermen in the field has remained relatively steady since 2009, when the current regulations governing coastal fishing were implemented. The regulations permit all fishermen to fish in coastal waters provided they fulfill certain requirements, which Arthúr describes as extensive. “Certain politicians predicted [coastal fishing] would explode. That thousands would sign up and it was best avoided.” However, since the current system was implemented, the number of fishermen has fluctuated between 600 and 726, according to Arthúr. “While handline fishing is romantic, there’s a lot of hard work and sweat and tears mixed in with the romance,” he stated.

Icelandic Sheep and Cattle Farmers Receive ISK 970 Million in Pandemic Support

sheep farm Sauðfjárbúið að Hesti í Borgarfirði Hestur Kindur Kind Sauðfé Sauðfjárbúið að Hesti í Borgarfirði Hestur Kindur Kind Sauðfé

Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, has completed the allocation of ISK 970 million ($7.5 million/€6.3 million) in funding to sheep and cattle farmers to meet the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure is part of a 12-point action plan in response to the effect of the pandemic on Icelandic agriculture. Social and travel restrictions have hit Iceland’s sheep and cattle farmers hard, leading to drops in both demand and prices for their products.

Tourism Halt Led to Drop in Demand

“It is undisputed that Icelandic farmers have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in various ways, including in light of the fact that two million tourists didn’t come to Iceland this year. Thus the demand for food products has decreased while at the same time imports have increased according to tariff quotas. It’s domestic food production that takes that hit,” Kristján Þór wrote last December shortly after he proposed the initiative. He pointed out that prices for meat and wool had fallen and waitlists at slaughterhouses had gotten longer. Meat production is particularly vulnerable to rapid market changes as it can take a year to ramp down production. Thus, lamb and beef reserves in Iceland have grown considerably as demand has fallen locally and internationally.

Most Funding to Sheep Farmers

The funds have now been approved and allocated: 75% will go to sheep farmers while the remaining 25% will go to cattle farmers. The funding to sheep farmers will be allocated via an additional mutton quality control surcharge as well as for wool production and through a special action plan on sheep breeding. Cattle farmers will be given an additional payment for each calf that was slaughtered in 2020, some 11,000 animals.

The funding is part of a broader action plan to support the local agricultural industry in responding to the challenges of the pandemic. Other measures include freezing tariff hikes, changes to tariff quotas, efforts to increase farmers’ opportunities for home production on the farm, and the creation of a new agricultural policy for Iceland.

Iceland to Permit Limited Home Slaughter This Fall

Icelandic sheep

Home slaughter of lambs will be permitted in Iceland this fall as a pilot project, RÚV reports. Meat from the lambs will be tested to ensure quality and safety standards are met. The project is expected to support innovation in the sheep farming industry and help farmers hold on to more of the profits from their lamb.

The pilot project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the National Association of Sheep Farmers (Landssamtak sauðfjárbænda), and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). Sheep farmers in Iceland are only permitted to slaughter and butcher lambs at home for their own consumption – any lamb that will be sold must be sent to a slaughterhouse. If the farmers then want to sell the meat themselves, they must pay a fee to do so.

Þröstur Heiðar Erlingsson, a sheep farmer in Skagafjörður, North Iceland, is supportive of the project. According to Þröstur, home slaughtering produces better quality meat, as the process is slower and the meat has more time to hang and become tender than in an industrial slaughterhouse. When farmers take their meat home from a slaughterhouse, they also receive neither the skin nor the offal. “We could make ourselves a lot more food out of this if we got to sell it ourselves and process it ourselves,” he stated.

Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson has expressed support for the initiative. The Ministry is ensuring home slaughter regulation can comply with international agreements that Iceland is party to.

No Whaling This Summer

whale Iceland hvalur

There will be no whaling conducted in Icelandic waters this summer, neither of minke whale nor of fin whales. RÚV reports that this will be the first time in 17 years that whaling has not been conducted in Iceland during the summer season.

Whaling resumed in Iceland in 2003, after a 14-year hiatus. When it started again, it was for scientific purposes. Commercial whaling then resumed again in 2006. Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson issued an authorization in February which allowed for fin and minke whaling to continue until 2023, although whaling regulations are to be renewed every five years. The Marine and Freshwater Institute has recommended a maximum annual quota of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales; this official annual quota will be valid from 2018 to 2025.

The decision to suspend whaling this summer stems from commercial, rather than specifically ethical reasons or protests. For instance, Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf, the only company to hunt fin whales, announced earlier this month that Hvalur would not be whaling this summer, but made a point of saying that the decision had nothing to do with the Greenpeace ship Esperanza docked in Reykjavík harbour.

Initially, Kristján said that the decision to suspend whaling this summer was based on the fact that the company’s permits did not arrive until February, which he said was too late to allow for the necessary ship maintenance. More recently, Kristján has added that conditions on the Japanese market, where all of Hvalur’s fin whale catch is exported, have not been profitable enough to make whaling worth it this season.

Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, the CEO of IP útgerð, which focuses on the domestic market, echoed Kristján’s sentiments. “As the situation stands right now, it doesn’t suit us [to whale this season]” he remarked. “So we made the decision to skip it.” IP útgerð will instead focus its efforts this summer on harvesting sea cucumbers. Gunnar explained that he would be importing Norwegian whale meat to address local demand and said that his company plans to resume whaling again next spring.

The Marine and Freshwater Institute also confirmed that there would be no whaling for research purposes this summer.

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.