Coastal Fishermen Oppose Lumpfish Quotas


Coastal fishermen in Patreksfjörður, the Westfjords, oppose the introduction of quotas for lumpfish, RÚV reports. They say the current system can be improved without resorting to a quota system. Previous experience shows that quotas consolidate in the hands of few owners, the fishermen state.

Arguments for quota don’t hold water

Gunnar Ingvi Bjarnason stated that the current coastal fishing system is accessible to newcomers, with a licence costing just ISK 22,000 [$160, €147]. “If a quota system is set up, people will have to buy quota,” he stated. Einar Helgason of the coastal fishing association Krókur, based in Patreksfjörður, says that coastal fishermen are generally against quotas and that the arguments for setting a lumpfish quota are weak. According to Einar, lumpfish are not a species that is overfished, which is what quota systems are put in place to prevent.

Gunnar Ingvi adds that quota setting will not address the issue of bycatch, another concern expressed by authorities.

Read More: Taking Stock of Iceland’s Coastal Fishing Industry

The coastal fishing system was established 16 years ago with the goal of creating opportunities for smaller, independent fishers. It is not based around a quota system like open-sea fishing is in Iceland and has a relatively low cost of entry. Coastal fishing has a positive economic effect on many rural areas across Iceland.

Icelandic State Must Pay Compensation for Misallocating Quota

The Icelandic state must compensate seafood companies Vinnslustöðin and Huginn due to the misallocation of mackerel quota from 2011 to 2018, RÚV reports. The state has been ordered to pay ISK 1 billion [$7.1 million, €6.6 million] plus legal costs of ISK 25 million [$178,000, €166,000]. Vinnslustöðin CEO Sigurgeir Brynjar Kristgeirsson says the state could have avoided the expense by negotiating directly with the company but showed no interest in doing so.

“We were pioneers in this mackerel fishing, we found the mackerel and utilised it, and in legislation, it simply says that those who start and who find the fish, should get a larger portion when it comes to allocation and setting quota,” Sigurgeir stated. Both the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Supreme Court of Iceland came to the same conclusion. “The conclusion was that it was taken from us and given to others, who hadn’t contributed from the beginning.”

The Reykjavík District Court ruled in favour of the seafood companies in the case on Monday morning. Seven companies had originally submitted the claim for damages but five withdrew their lawsuits.

The mackerel quota which the case addresses was allocated by then-Minister of Fisheries Jón Bjarnason in 2010. Rather than allocating the entire quota to those who had experience, some was allocated to small boat fishermen and others in a pool for mid-size ships. Many immediately cast doubt on the legality of the allocation and the Supreme Court ruled that the state had broken the law: only those with previous experience fishing mackerel should have received quota.

Growing profits in few hands

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the seven companies who had initially sued were criticised by government officials for demanding ISK 10 billion in compensation from government coffers in the midst of a recession. As a result, five of the seven companies dropped their cases in 2020.

In a Facebook post about this week’s Reykjavík District Court ruling, Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson confirmed the state would appeal. If the seafood companies were to win the case, Bjarni added, he asserted that the compensation would be extracted from the seafood industry rather than taxpayers (presumably through raising taxes on seafood companies or similar measures).

The profits of Iceland’s 10 largest seafood companies grew by 50% in 2019 and continued growing throughout the pandemic, with the price of fish rising dramatically in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Vinnslustöðin bought Huginn in 2021 and is among Iceland’s ten largest seafood companies. Just four companies hold around 60% of Iceland’s fishing quota, which has sparked debate on the distribution of wealth in recent years.

North Atlantic Nations Reach Agreement on Mackerel Quota, Dispute Allocation

iceland fishing

Iceland has reached an agreement alongside Norway, the EU, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and the United Kingdom on the maximum catch for mackerel next year.

The new quota agreement for 2023, which was signed yesterday, December 7, will be set at 782,066 tonnes.

The new limit is 13,000 tonnes less than this year, in accordance with the suggestions made by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

See also: Iceland Moves to Reduce Marine Bycatch

So far, the national allocation of the quota has not yet been decided between the signatories, despite numerous meetings these years. Iceland currently demands 16.5% of the quota, or 129,000 tonnes.

Negotiations are set to resume in February of next year, and will need to reach an agreement by the end of March, as the fishing season for most nations will begin in the first half of the year.

It is important for the nations to reach an agreement. If they do not, and they individually allocate their catch according to national demand, it is all but certain that the total catch will far exceed scientific recommendations for sustainable levels of fishing in the North Atlantic.

Bjørnar Skjæran, Norwegian Minister of Marine Fisheries, stated with regard to the recent agreement:

“I am very pleased that we have now finally set a total quota for mackerel. This is something we have worked for for a long time and which means a lot for the fishermen, and for sustainable management of this important fish stock. Despite several rounds of negotiations throughout 2022, there has still not been a complete agreement on the issues of distribution of the stocks and management plan for mackerel. We hope that the remaining questions will be resolved at the beginning of next year.”

The agreement can be read here.




Ptarmigan Quota Increased for Upcoming Hunting Season

The Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Climate has announced that the annual ptarmigan hunting season will begin on November 1 and conclude on December 4. This year’s hunting quota has been set at 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000 from last year.

Poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped to significantly restore numbers. In May, the institute reported that the ptarmigan population was nearing its zenith in West and Northwest Iceland in the Westfjords while the population was likely declining in Northeast and East Iceland. In August, the institute reported poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland. The total ptarmigan population was estimated at just under 300,000 birds.

Yesterday, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for the Environment, Energy, and Climate, announced the arrangement of this year’s ptarmigan hunting season. An announcement on the government’s website stated that hunting season shall last from November 1 to December 4, between 12 noon and sunset, from Tuesdays to Fridays. This year’s arrangement is similar to last year’s, with the exception that the quota has been increased to 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000.

Hunters asked to show moderation

Guðlaugur Þór also asked hunters to show moderation in light of the recruitment failure in Northeast and West Iceland: poor weather conditions this spring and summer are the likely explanation. The minister further encouraged hunters to refrain from hunting in large numbers in Northeast Iceland. Lastly, the announcement iterates the ban on ptarmigan sales, which applies equally to the sale of ptarmigan to resellers and others.

“I’ve emphasised that the Environment Agency of Iceland should expedite the creation of a management and protection plan for the ptarmigan and that the arrangement of hunting season should based on that plan in the future,” the press release reads.

The statement adds that a timeline for the management and protection plan, which involves a high level of cooperation with interested parties, has been established and that the plan would likely be introduced in May of 2023.

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.

Capelin Quota Lowered to 218,000 Tonnes

capelin loðna fishing

In a recent report from the Maritime Research Institute, the advised capelin quota was lowered to 218,400 tonnes, significantly less than hoped-for projections of 400,000 tonnes.

The new recommendation replaces the previous, more optimistic, recommendation which was based on numbers of immature capelin from 2021.

Read more: Capelin Quota Increased by 50,000 Tonnes

Now, new data is available from the research ships Árni Friðriksson and Tarajoq, which took echo measurements of the capelin population between Iceland and Greenland between August 27 and September 29.

The total population was estimated to be 1.1 million tonnes, with a spawning stock of around 763,000 tonnes.

Some fishermen are nevertheless optimistic, as many years have been entirely without capelin. Of the past 13 years, 7 have seen no initial capelin quota issued.

Read more: Reduction of Capelin Quota May Be Necessary

Although the lowered quota has been a disappointment for fishermen, if favourable market prices prevail, the capelin catch could still net ISK 30-35 billion.

However, the quota is still subject to revision and will be updated after new figures are available in January and February of 2023.

In an interview with RÚV, Gunnþór Ingvason, director of the Neskaupstaður herring processing plant, stated that “the problem is this uncertainty. If the quota increase comes late in the season, then it’s very expensive to have put all the ships away for winter.”


139 Fin Whales Hunted During Whaling Season

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Five fin whales were hunted this week and towed into Hvalfjörður fjord. A total of 139 whales were caught this whaling season by the company Hvalur hf, reports.

Five fin whales caught this week

As reported by Iceland Review earlier this year, two whaling ships owned by the company Hvalur hf. set off from Reykjavík harbour on June 22 this summer to begin the whaling season. No commercial whaling had taken place in Iceland for four years (although a single minke whale was hunted in 2021.)

By the start of September, 100 fin whales had been caught. Four weeks later, after a spell of fine weather, 39 additional whales had been hunted – with five of those being towed into Hvalfjörður fjord this week.

“What’s noteworthy this time around,” Elín B. Ragnarsdóttir, Division Head of Fishing Supervision with the Directorate of Fisheries, told, “is that inspectors from the Directorate of Fisheries have been aboard all whaling ships since August 24 and have supervised the hunting of fin whales on behalf of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). Until August 24, inspectors were on board the whaling ships and supervised the hunting of about 15% of the whales.”

When asked if any complaints had been filed on behalf of the Directorate of Fisheries, Elín gestured towards MAST: “The supervision that is carried out today is largely in the hands of the Food and Veterinary Authority, given that animal-welfare issues fall within their purview. A summary of the Directorate of Fisheries’ supervision is being prepared but is not ready for publication.”

Whaling season usually concludes at the end of September (although it depends on the weather).

Only one whaling season to go?

Earlier this year, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated she saw little reason to permit whaling after Hvalur hf.’s current licence expires in 2023. In an op-ed published in the Morgunblaðið newspaper, Svandís wrote that there was little evidence that whaling was economically beneficial to Iceland. She also noted that the controversial nature of the practice has a negative impact on Iceland, though it may be hard to measure. The minister concluded by saying that the government would carry out an assessment on the potential economic and social impact of whaling this year.

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, 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.

Reindeer Hunting Quota for 2022 Released

Reindeer hunting Iceland

A total of 1,021 reindeer may be hunted during the 2022 season, 546 cows and 475 bulls, according to the newly released quota from the Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate. The decision is based on proposals from the Environment Agency of Iceland. This is 199 fewer reindeer than last year, primarily due to uncertainty about reindeer counts due to weather conditions and the movement of animals between hunting areas during the count.

Bull (male reindeer) hunting season is from August 1 to September 15. Cows (female reindeer) may be hunted between August 1 and September 20. During the first two weeks of the season, hunters are required to avoid killing cows that are suckling, in order to minimise the impact hunting has on calves. Hunting guides are responsible for assisting and guiding hunters in their selection of prey. Icelandic regulations forbid the hunting of calves and bulls under two years of age.

Read More: In Reindeer Country

As in previous years, the quota is divided between nine hunting areas, with the permitted number of animals specified for each area. The Environment Agency advertises and handles the sale of all reindeer hunting licences.

Reindeer are not native to Iceland. They were imported to the country from Norway in the late eighteenth century and are currently to be found in the east of the country. Reindeer have no natural predators in Iceland.

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.