US Extends Deadline for Marine Mammal Bycatch Regulations

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In a recent announcement, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has extended the deadline for the implementation of regulations governing the import of seafood to the US.

Aimed at protecting endangered species and limiting the amount of unnecessary bycatch (what is unintentionally caught by net fishing, which can include seabirds, other species of fish, seals, dolphins, and even small whales), the regulations aim to limit the import of marine products from fisheries where marine mammals are caught. This has potentially large consequences for Iceland, the US being a major export market for Icelandic seafood.

The regulations were originally introduced in 2016 and gave exporting nations a 5-year period to comply with the new US regulations. However, this grace period was extended by a year, and then further delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Can Iceland Save its Seals Without Hurting its Fishermen?

Notably, Iceland lost its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2018 due to the large number of bycatch produced by Icelandic lumpfish fishing. Lumpfish generally stick near the shore and are thus safe from larger trawlers. This fish, prized for its roe, is still fished in small boats with nets. However, net fishing also produces large amounts of unwanted bycatch.

Although Iceland has taken steps in recent years to minimizing the environmental impact of net fishing, it is a complicated situation for Icelandic fishermen, as it is generally the small boat fishermen who will be under the most pressure from the current regulations.

Iceland’s small boat fishermen have already been sidelined in many ways by the current quota system. Although the bycatch problem is indeed important, it leaves some wondering if the burden of environmental responsibility is being placed excessively on small, independent fishermen.



Coastal Fishermen Unhappy With Reduced Cod Quota

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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.