Amendment Not Sufficient to Encourage Tuna Fishing

Efforts to encourage Icelandic fisheries to make use of Atlantic bluefin tuna catch quotas allotted to Iceland have yet to prove fruitful. While tuna goes for high prices, specialised ships are necessary to make tuna fishing profitable. Chartering foreign boats to develop tuna fishing experience within the Icelandic fishing industry would require authorisation from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, Fiskifréttir reports.

Last summer, Parliament passed a provisionary article allowing Icelandic fisheries to charter foreign ships to fish for bluefin tuna. While now permissible by Icelandic laws, fishing Iceland’s quota with foreign ships is in conflict with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas’s resolutions and the amendment is therefore meaningless unless ICCAT makes revisions to their regulations.

“The change was necessary but not sufficient to clear the way for tuna fishing with foreign chartered ships,” the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries stated to Fiskifréttir. “ICCAT statutes state that such chartering is prohibited. Therefore, ICCAT’s statutes would have to be altered for such chartering to take place, even if Icelandic legislation has nothing standing in its way.” According to the ministry, the change to legislation was made at the request of Fisheries Iceland.

The Ministry also noted that if no suitable application from an Icelandic ship reaches the Directorate of Fisheries by June 1, the Ministry will look into selling a part of Iceland’s permissible catch quota to cooperating states within ICCAT under ICCAT regulations.

Since Iceland joined ICCAT in 2002, it’s been issued 1292 tonnes of quota, but only 80-90 tonnes of this valuable fish have been caught in that time, and that’s including both direct fishing and tuna bycatch. While the tuna has been intermittently caught by Iceland’s shores, in order for tuna fishing to become profitable, fisheries would need to invest in specially equipped freezer trawlers capable of freezing the tuna at much lower temperatures than current ships allow.

If Iceland continues not to use its tuna catch quota, other nations or interested parties might well make a claim to it, such as Norway or the European Union, as tuna quota is in high demand. The hope is that if an Icelandic party can charter foreign tuna boats, they might establish the know-how and experience of this highly-specialised type of fishing, which could eventually lead to Icelandic fisheries investing in tuna fishing ships.

Iceland’s Tuna Quota Mostly Unused

Between 20 and 30 Japanese tuna fishing ships have been fishing just outside the borders of Icelandic waters, indicating that there is enough tuna for fishing within Icelandic jurisdiction, RÚV reports. Icelandic authorities release a tuna fishing quota, but it has rarely been used in recent years. Icelandic fishermen would need to acquire special ships in order to make tuna fishing commercially viable.

Japanese ships have fished for tuna in the North Atlantic for decades, but how far north they venture varies. Around 15-20 years ago, it was common for Japanese ships to dock in Reykjavík harbour for provisions. According to information from the Icelandic Coast Guard, some of the Japanese ships that have been fishing near the Icelandic jurisdiction in recent years have been granted permission to enter into Icelandic waters due to weather and sea conditions.

Quota mostly unused

The quota given this year is 225 tonnes and it is mostly unused. Fishing company Vísir, based in Grindavík, Southwest Iceland, is one of the few Icelandic companies that has fished tuna, and did so for three years. “Not everyone agreed that it was profitable but we enjoyed it and gained valuable experience in those three years,” states the company’s CEO Pétur Hafsteinn Pálsson. “As fun as it was in the beginning, the excitement wore off when the weather started to worsen and the catch to decrease, [the tuna] seemed to swim out again and didn’t come as near to land.”

Specially-designed ships required

Vísir used wet fish trawlers to fish tuna, slightly adapting them for the purpose. The fish were sent to Japan by air. Now that the tuna is further from land, specially-equipped freezer trawlers would be required to store the fish, and no such ships are currently available in Iceland. “First of all you have to freeze it at a much lower temperature than a regular fishing boat can do, so you need both a very low temperature and quick freezing,” Pétur stated. While tuna fishing isn’t entirely out of the picture sometime in the future, the pandemic has delayed all such projects in the industry.