Three New Rescue Ships for ICE-SAR

Jóhannes Briem ICE-SAR ship search and rescue

Three new rescue ships have been added to Iceland’s Search and Rescue organisation ICE-SAR’s fleet recently, including the Jóhannes Briem. The latter ship’s home port is Reykjavík, where it was handed over to ICE-SAR team Ársæll on Saturday. ICE-SAR is working on renewing its fleet to improve accident prevention and response across Iceland.

Jóhannes Briem was built in Finland at the Kewatec shipyards. It has a cruising speed of up to 30 nautical miles and is powered by two powerful Scania diesel engines and worm drives. It contains state-of-the-art equipment including a thermal camera and side-scan sonar, as well as having better crew equipment than the association’s older ships.

Jóhannes Briem is the third ship of its kind acquired by ICE-SAR recently, with the other two going to search and rescue teams in Flateyri, in the Westfjords and Húsavík, North Iceland.

At Jóhannes Briem’s handover, ICE-SAR announced it had already ordered a fourth ship, which is to be based in Snæfellsnes, West Iceland.

Whaling Has Little Economic Impact on Iceland

hvalur whaling in iceland

Whaling in Iceland has little direct impact on the Icelandic economy. Whaling has not turned a profit in recent years for Hvalur hf., the only company that has been whaling commercially in Iceland in the recent past. While people abroad almost always see Iceland’s participation in whaling in a negative light, those views do not seem to have a measurable negative effect on Iceland’s economy, neither affecting the sale or export of Icelandic goods nor Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination.

These are the conclusions of a report on the economic impact of whaling in Iceland, written by consulting company Intellecon for the Ministry of Fisheries, Food, and Agriculture. The report only considers whaling’s direct economic impact on Iceland; not biological, regional, or political factors. Neither does it consider the ecological impact of the practice.

Less than 1% of total seafood export

According to data gathered by the report’s authors, the export of whale products has never amounted to more than 0.6% of the total export value of seafood from Iceland – that record was reached in 2016. Despite not being an economically significant industry, however, whaling is important for the individuals it employs, who earn a higher salary whaling and processing whale meat than they would in most other industries. It bears noting, however, that the work is shift work and seasonal, usually lasting four months per year. Around 120 people worked on processing whale meat last season and the average salary of those whaling and processing whale meat was between ISK 1.7-2 million per month [$12,900, €11,800].

Read More: Sea Change

The report details various difficulties in selling whale products due to restrictions and other factors. It mentioned that “It has been difficult to get permission to sell the whale meal, e.g. in feed for pigs, as it has not met the conditions for such use.” While Hvalur hf. has burned whale oil on its ships, “Selling it for other uses has proven impossible, in part due to trade barriers on whale products.”

Hvalur hf. has only hunted fin whales in recent years, and their meat has only been sold to Japan. The consumption of whale meat has decreased rapidly there, from 233,000 tonnes in 1962 to only 1-2,000 tonnes in 2021 and 2022. Transporting whale products has also proven difficult in recent years due to pressure from organisations that campaign against whaling and the reluctance of governments to permit the transport of whale products through their countries. As a result, whale meat from Iceland has been transported to Japan across the northerly route, north of Russia and Siberia. Conditions on the route are difficult and require collaboration with Russian icebreakers.

Future of whaling decided this month

While people abroad view Iceland’s whaling in a negative light, the report did not find that these views had any negative economic impact that could be measured. They neither made it more difficult to sell Icelandic products abroad nor did they reduce Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination.

Iceland’s Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir implemented a temporary ban on whaling on June 20, the day before the whaling season was set to begin. The ban expires at the end of August. Svandís has stated that a decision on the continuation of the controversial practice will be made public before the end of the month.

Thousands of Cigarette Stubs Wash Up on East Iceland Beach

Svanbjörg Pálsdóttir. Cigarette stubs washed up on the beach in Eskifjörður, East Iceland, August 16, 2023

A resident of Eskifjörður, East Iceland was shocked to see thousands of cigarette stubs washed up on the shore of the fjord yesterday. It is unclear where the cigarette stubs came from but many residents speculate they were dumped by a passing ship. The stubs have since been cleaned by the municipality of Fjarðabyggð. RÚV reported first.

Svanbjörg Pálsdóttir went for a walk on the beach in Eskifjörður yesterday. At first she thought the yellow material dotting the rocks was seaweed but then realised it was thousands of cigarette butts. “Which ships are dumping this into the sea,” she asked in a Facebook post for residents of Eskifjörður, calling on authorities to look into the pollution and stop it from happening again.

Svanbjörg wrote to the municipality of Fjarðabyggð to alert them to the issue. The municipality reacted immediately and had the beach cleaned the same day. It is not clear whether authorities will investigate the source of the pollution at this stage.

New Technology for Prawn Fishing Uses Light to Reduce Emissions

An Icelandic company has developed a technology for prawn fishing that uses light to herd prawn up from the sea floor. This allows the fishing equipment to remain off the sea floor, leading to less disturbance of the environment and lower emissions than conventional trawling. The technology is set to be put on the market soon.

Herding prawn with light

“We are developing the next generation of fishing equipment. Fishing equipment that can fly close to the bottom without touching the bottom. Then we have a light that herds,” Halla Jónsdóttir, founder of Optitog, told RÚV reporters. Optitog has named this patented light beam technology “Virtual Trawl” and has data that shows that it results in higher yields, compared to using the equipment with the light off.

“We have a special light that forms a sort of wall or line in the sea and we see that it works to herd [the prawn].” The prawn swims ahead of the light, up off the sea floor and into the nets. It’s possible to set the equipment so that it travels a consistent distance above the sea floor, for example 30 centimetres [11.8 inches].

Lower emissions

Because Optitog’s equipment does not trawl along the sea floor, it encounters 30% less resistance than conventional trawling, meaning the method drastically reduces fuel consumption. By leaving the sea floor largely undisturbed, the new technology also reduces CO2 emissions caused by disturbing organic material on the bottom of the ocean.

Halla says that a Norwegian party is working to put Optitog on the market as an environmentally-friendly fishing technology. Halla believes the technology could be applied to fishing other species.

Fishing Industry Profits Spark Wealth Distribution Debate

fishing in Iceland

Iceland’s largest seafood companies made huge profits last year, if the first published financial statements are any indication, Fréttablaðið reports. Opposition MPs are arguing that the industry should be taxed more so its earnings are more evenly distributed throughout Icelandic society. According to Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the nation sees the industry as unjust, largely because consolidation of fishing quota has funnelled large profits into the hands of very few individuals.

Billions in profits

At the end of 2020, the seafood industry’s equity was evaluated at ISK 325 billion [$2.6 billion; €2.4 billion]. In the same year, the industry paid just under ISK 4.8 billion [$37.7 million; €35.2 million] in quota fees, while the state treasury faced record financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The fishing industry has continued to grow despite the pandemic recession. Between 2020 and 2021, the total value of catch in Iceland increased around 9%, from ISK 148.3 billion [$1.2 billion; €1.1 billion] to ISK 162.2 billion [$1.3 billion; €1.2 billion], according to figures from Statistics Iceland. Prospects continue to be good, especially since the price of fish has risen dramatically in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Four companies hold 60% of quota

Just four companies hold around 60% of Iceland’s fishing quota: Samherji, Brim, KS, and Ísfélagið. Brim reported profits of ISK 11.3 billion [$88.8 million; €82.9 million] last year, and Síldarvinnslan’s profits are similar. In the first three months of this year, Síldarvinnslan has made profits of nearly ISK 4 billion [$31.4 million; €29.3 million]. Samherji, Kaupfélag Skagfirðinga (KS), and other fishing industry giants have not yet submitted financial statements from last year, but similarly high profits are expected.

In a column published in Morgunblaðið yesterday, Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated that the nation viewed the consolidation of fishing quota in so few hands as deeply unjust, and that it felt that this collective resource was not distributed fairly.

Fishing money in other sectors

Opposition MP and Social-Democratic Alliance Chairman Logi Einarsson echoed these words. “We have watched a huge accumulation of wealth in very few hands, which has also led to a small number of individuals not only holding the majority of fishing quota, but due to this same wealth, accumulated assets in many parts of society, in unrelated sectors.” Logi named these sectors as the media, real estate, transport, grocery stores, energy, and even insurance and banking.

“This creates a very unhealthy situation,” Logi continued. “And now that the entire public expects worsening livelihoods and various healthcare and welfare services are underfunded, quota holders should certainly pay more toward public expenditure, they are well capable of it, to say the least.”

Reduction of Capelin Quota May Be Necessary

capelin loðna fishing

New measurements of capelin stocks from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) suggest that it might be necessary to reduce capelin quotas for the ongoing season by around 100,000 tonnes. This year’s quota was set at 904,200 tonnes and has not been higher in decades. MFRI’s final decision is expected by mid-February.

In October 2021, the MFRI set a capelin catch quota for the 2021-2022 season at 904,000 tonnes following the autumn research expeditions. This quota was sevenfold that of the previous season’s quota, and a dramatic shift from 2019 and 2020, when no capelin catch quota was issued at all. The total landings of the 2020-2021 fishing year amounted to about 128,600 tonnes, among the lowest catches since 1980. Still, its export value amounted to 20 billion ISK [$154,500,000, €133,140,000].

Research vessels Árni Friðriksson and Bjarni Sæmundsson recently completed an expedition to assess the state of capelin stocks. The data collected suggest a total catch quota of 800,000 tonnes, which would be a 11% reduction from the previously issued quota. The recommendation is based on measurements taken off the Northeast, East, and Southeast coasts. Sea ice delayed measurements in the Westfjords region, which are expected to be done next week. A final quota recommendation will be issued after that expedition is complete.

Capelin fishing has gone well this season, with two ships breaking records for the largest ever catch in Iceland.

Huge Iceberg Near Westfjords Coast

iceberg Icelandic coast guard

The Icelandic Coast Guard went on an expedition yesterday to map sea ice, which has been prevalent off the coast of the Westfjords in recent weeks. Around 17 nautical miles from the coast, they came across a large iceberg, measuring 250 metres by 150 metres [820 by 492 feet]. A rescue worker was lowered onto the iceberg, after which the Coast Guard helicopter made a landing on it.

The map below shows the location of icebergs and sea ice, including the big iceberg, just north of the Westfjords, as they were encountered by the Cost Guard yesterday afternoon. Seafarers are encouraged to show caution in the area.

Icelandic Coast Guard. The largest iceberg, seen in the video above, is at the point marked furthest north.

Sprat: New Fish Species Breeding Off Iceland’s Coast

Researchers have confirmed that the fish species sprat is spawning in Icelandic waters, according to a new report from Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. Sprat has been found in significant numbers off the south and west coast and spawned near Ísafjarðardjúp fjord in the Westfjords last year. Sprat first appeared near the Icelandic coast in 2017, and its numbers have been increasing since. 

Probably originate from Faroese waters

As seen in the picture above, sprat is not dissimilar to herring, a commercial species important in Icelands fishing industry. It has likely reproduced in more locations than just near Ísafjarðardjúp, according to the report. Over the past few years, Icelandic vessels have fished the species in greater numbers.

The most likely explanation for the appearance of sprat is that sprat larvae were carried to Icelandic waters by ocean currents before hatching near the coast of Iceland. Approximately 1,000 tonnes of sprat was fished by Faroese vessels in 2020, and the larvae likely originated from Faroese waters; however, no eggs, larvae, or mature sprat have been found in the waters between Iceland and the Faroe Islands, says Jón Sólmundsson, an ichthyologist with the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute, and who recently authored an article on sprat in the magazine Náttúrufræðingurinn

Even though sprat was first fished near Iceland in 2017, Jón believes that the species had been fished by Icelandic fishing vessels earlier, given its similarity in appearance to young herring. 

Only time will tell

Sprat is the common name applied to a group of forage fish belonging to the genus Sprattus in the family Clupeidae. Sprat is a highly active, small, oily fish, which travels in sizeable schools with other fish and swims continuously throughout the day. According to Jón, it is unclear whether sprat will begin to breed near the Icelandic coast more permanently; water temperature and other environmental factors will determine whether sprat will become an important species within Icelandic fishing grounds.

New Ship Freyja Increases Coast Guard’s Response Capacity

Freyja coast guard ship

The Icelandic Coast Guard’s new patrol ship Freyja has arrived in Iceland. The ship is currently located in Reykjavík harbour for the installation of equipment but its home port will be Siglufjörður, North Iceland. With the Coast Guard’s other patrol ship, Þór, stationed in Reykjavík, response time to emergencies will shorten across the country.

The decision to make Siglufjörður Freyja’s home port was jointly made by the Coast Guard and Ministry of Justice. As a press release from the Coast Guard explains, “With increased ship travel in the Arctic, the number of trips by large cargo and oil vessels along the east and north coasts of Iceland increases. The number of cruise ships are also expected to increase, and there is no need to extrapolate on the threats posed to the ecosystem in the event of danger. Hours to or from [the scene of an event] can be crucial. With Þór in Reykjavík and Freyja in Siglufjörður, the Coast Guard’s response capacity around the country has been increased and it will be easier to ensure the safety of seafarers, Icelanders, and resources at sea.”

Freyja is comparable to Þór in terms of its size and equipment, but has greater towing capacity. With Freyja’s arrival, the Coast Guard’s older patrol ship Týr will be relieved of duty. Freyja, Þór, and Týr are all names taken from Norse mythology, a tradition for the naming of Coast Guard ships.

The new ship arrived in Reykjavík harbour last Monday afternoon and is now being outfitted with a computer system and other equipment. Freyja is scheduled to set off on its first patrol mission on November 22, and will end the mission in Siglufjörður on December 9.

Freshly-Painted Freyja Coming to Iceland

An Icelandic Coast Guard vessel

The Icelandic Coast Guard’s new patrol ship Freyja is expected to arrive in Iceland on November 6. The ship has already been painted in the flag colours and its crew has arrived in Rotterdam, the Netherlands to sail Freyja home to Siglufjörður. Freyja is 86 metres long and 20 metres wide, and will join the Coast Guard’s other main patrol ship Þór in monitoring Icelandic waters.

Freyja is similar to Þór in terms of size and equipment, though with greater towing and rescue capacity. Both ships are specially equipped to carry out law enforcement as well as search and rescue missions in Iceland’s demanding conditions.

Þór’s arrival to Iceland just over 10 years ago marked a turning point in the Icelandic Coast Guard’s search and rescue ability. The ship was used as a mobile power station for Dalvík two years ago and provided a large part of the town with electricity during a power outage. The ship’s towing capacity has come to good use in towing incapacitated ships over the years.