Whaling Company Seeks 10-Year License

Whaling ships

Iceland’s only whaling operation, Hvalur hf., has applied for a license to hunt fin whales. The company is seeking a five to ten year license from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Heimildin reports, arguing that this would create “normal predictability” for the company’s operations.

No company has had an active whaling license since the beginning of the year. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded in January that Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir did not act in accordance with the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer. Svandís announced in June that she would postpone the start of whaling season due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Current law allows for whaling

Hvalur’s application was submitted at the end of January and the ministry is looking to process it as soon as possible. The company first received a whaling license in 1947 when a law on whaling was passed and has operated sporadically since. The law was passed “to secure the protection, development and maximum utilisation of the whale resource”, with consideration to the interests of “the consumers of whale products”.

In January, Svandís said that an independent party would be tasked with reviewing the legislation and administration of whaling. Hvalur hf., however, argues that the application must be processed according to current law and with speed, as preparations for the summer whaling season are underway. Svandís is now on medical leave, with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responsible for her duties in the meantime.

Damning Report on Iceland’s Fish Farming Industry

fish farming iceland

The administration and supervision of open-net fish farming in Iceland are weak and fragmented, according to a newly-released report from the Icelandic National Audit Office (INAO). The Minister of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture says fish farming regulations are an unclear patchwork and that the government will act on the report’s findings. RÚV reported first.

Rapid development with little oversight

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Food, Fisheries, and Agriculture and was presented to the Constitutional and Supervisory Committee yesterday. It paints a dark picture of the administration and supervision of the fish farming industry, which has grown rapidly in Iceland over the past decade. For example, changes in fish farming legislation that were intended to promote the growth and development of the sector, have not been followed up by strengthening its administration and supervision.

Consolidation of ownership, directionless development, and operation of open-net sea pens have become established in areas without much discussion or direct action on the part of the government. Farming areas have been allocated for the long term free of charge, and there are examples of fish farming zones overlapping with sailing routes, protected areas for telecommunications and electricity cables, and obstructing navigational lighthouses.

According to the INAO report, monitoring of the sector needs to be strengthened. The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute has pointed out that it does not have the resources required to define fish farming zones. The report says that the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) did not consider additional monitoring necessary despite uncovering serious and even repeated deviations from existing regulations.

Open-net salmon farms dominate industry

Open-net fish farming in Icelandic waters has grown more than tenfold between 2014 and 2021. Yearly production rose from under 4,000 tonnes to nearly 45,000 tonnes over this period. More than 99% of that production was farmed salmon.

The export value of agricultural products in 2021 was more than ISK 36 billion [$254 million; 237 million]. Most of that figure, or 76%, was farmed salmon, according to RÚV. The aquaculture industry has played a role in supporting development in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, but the largest fish farming companies in Iceland are Norwegian-owned.

Legislation will take time to amend

“It is quite clear that the regulatory framework around this is a patchwork, is unclear, ineffective, and so on,” stated Minister of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir. “We’ve been chasing an industry that has grown very quickly.” Svandís stated that it was unlikely changes to legislation would go through this session as they require considerable preparation, but that there were many suggestions in the report the government would act on “immediately.”

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.

Cost of Dairy to Increase in New Year

According to a recent statement by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, the average cost of dairy products throughout Iceland is set to increase in the coming year.

As of January 2023, the wholesale price of dairy and dairy products in Iceland will increase by 3.5%.

The cost increase, which sets the price at which milk is bought from dairy farmers, is in response to increases in production costs since the price was last assessed in September of this year.

According to the Ministry, processing and distribution costs have risen by 5.06% in the last year, in addition to a 2.38% increase in livestock fees. Collective agreements have also caused recent increases to the cost of labour, in addition to the generally high inflation currently affecting the Icelandic economy.

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.

Iceland Tightens Regulations on Blood Mare Farms

Icelandic horse

Blood mare farming, the practice of extracting blood from pregnant mares for sale, will soon be subject to a licence in Iceland. This is one of several measures the Icelandic government is taking to tighten and clarify regulations on the controversial practice. The new regulations will be valid for three years, during which authorities will “assess its future,” according to a government notice.

Iceland’s blood mare farm industry made international headlines last winter after the Germany-based Animal Welfare Foundation posted a documentary on YouTube under the heading “Iceland – Land of the 5,000 Blood Mares.” The documentary contained footage showcasing ill treatment of horses on blood farms, including horses being shouted at and hit.

Read More: Blood Farms Documentary Shocks the Nation

Following the publication of the video, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir appointed a working group to review the practice and whether it ensured the welfare of the animals involved. The working group’s report, published yesterday, concluded that existing regulations on the practice were “very vague and not acceptable, as they concern a fairly extensive and controversial activity.”

More detailed provisions

In addition to implementing a licencing system for the practice, the group proposed tightening regulations on blood mare farming “with regard to the views of stakeholders and others with whom the working group spoke.” These include more detailed provisions on conditions and facilities at the farms, monitoring of horse health, grooming, and temperament assessment, as well as the working methods of blood collection and internal and external monitoring. The report’s authors proposed banning production systems based on mass production of mares’ blood, as they could endanger the welfare of the animals.

The working group consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), and the University of Iceland’s Centre for Ethics. The Animal Welfare Foundation and many other interest groups were consulted in the writing of the report.

Only six countries operate blood farms

Since the 1980s, horse farmers in Iceland have been able to gain extra income by extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares. This hormone exists in pregnant mares’ blood and can be removed and sold for hefty sums. To begin with, blood farming was a secondary practice on horse farms, but later, some farmers turned their focus to the practice, with data from 2019 indicating that 95 farmers supplied pregnant mare’s blood. Just one company, Ísteka, buys and processes blood harvested from mares in Iceland.

The hormone extracted from pregnant mares is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals. Only a handful of countries operate blood farms besides Iceland: Russia, Mongolia, China, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Capelin Quota to Be Increased by 50,000 Tonnes

iceland fishing

Icelandic fishing companies are likely to be granted an additional quota of ca. 50,000 tonnes’ worth of capelin, Vísir reports. The announcement comes as the most valuable phase of capelin season, the processing of roe, commences.

Ministry to reallocate the Norwegian capelin quota

As Norwegians vessels were unable to use the full extent of their capelin allowance in Iceland – when their season on Icelandic waters concluded – the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries is expected to reallocate the remainder of the quota among Icelandic vessels, Vísir reports. As reported by Mbl.is, the authorities rejected Norway’s request for an extension in February.

This reallocation, which could comprise around 50,000 tonnes, could come into effect as early as today. If Icelandic vessels manage to fully utilise this additional quota, the value of the catch could be worth between two to three billion ISK (€14-21 million / $15-23 million).

The announcement comes as the most valuable phase of the capelin season, the processing of roe, commences. Roe-processing is expected to be in full swing around the country, as companies race against time to catch as much capelin as possible before they spawn.

As noted in Iceland Review last year, the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute of Iceland set its new advice for capelin catch quotas at 904,200 tonnes for the 2021/22 season. This quota is nearly sevenfold of last year’s quota and a dramatic shift from 2019 and 2020 when no capelin quota was issued at all.