Despite being one of the smallest countries with one of the smallest population, Iceland has captured more than 1 million tons of wild-caught seafood, making it one of the top-20 nations capturing more than a million tons. Atop this top-20 sits China along with the USA, Indonesia, Russia, and Japan.
This disproportion is explained mostly by the excellent international reputation that Iceland has acquired, first with the quality of the products fished making it easier to sell, and second but not the least thanks to its sustainable environmental policies.
“Origin Iceland” has become synonymous with Delicious, Sustainable, and Clean. Furthermore, Iceland has taken a leading role when it comes to its record of fishery and marine ecosystem management. This experience was built over the long history of its fishing industry, and more recently, it has been enhanced in conjunction with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) code of conduct.
The Icelandic fishing industry has always been a core component of its economy. Responsible management of fishing grounds is indispensable to keep the industry and the marine ecosystem in good health. To that end, Iceland has structured the responsible management of their fishing ground around 4 fundamentals:
Constant drive for Improvement
Continuous intelligence gathering and stock assessment made by an independent body, the Marine Research Institute.
Sustainable utilisation of the fish stock with a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limitation system.
Effective control and enforcement.
Dedication to the continuous improvement of effective management of the Icelandic fisheries.
1) Extensive and continuous scientific research on the fish stock and marine ecosystem as the foundation of the management of Icelandic fisheries. There are several independent bodies participating in this endeavor but it is mostly the Marine Research Institute that provides Icelandic authorities and fisheries with management advice. The MRI does wide-ranging and extensive research on everything from the status and productivity of the commercial stock, current status of the marine ecosystem, aquaculture, environmental impacts, to new technologies. It investigates fishing gears and their impact on the ecosystem.
The results of the MRI’s research provides Icelandic authorities with the elements necessary to make decisions such as the yearly catch limitations, or Total Allowable Catch (TAC). However, prior to providing the Icelandic government advice on the total catch, the institute’s research assessment is presented and evaluated by relevant international and multi-national organisations, including the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). This ensures that the MRI, and Iceland’s government, are working in conformity with standards that meet international criteria.
2) The Total Allowable Catch limitation system is the backbone of the Icelandic fisheries management system. Each Icelandic fishing vessel is allocated a share of the TAC for each species. TAC decisions are based on several environmental, social and economical factors, with a particular focus on ensuring the long-term renewal and sustainability of the resource.
3) An essential part of the sustainable management of fisheries is the control and enforcement of the yearly TAC. The Directorate of Fisheries is charged with monitoring all catches brought ashore. Each catch is weighed by an accredited harbor official to ensure that every fishing vessel is respecting its quota. The inspectors have access to the catch logs which state the location of the fishing activity, day of catch, type of fishing gear, and catch quantity.
Information collected by the officials of the Directorate of Fisheries is registered in a central database, ensuring a constant overview of the fisheries quota. The database is updated regularly, made public, ensuring the greatest transparency.
Legal and regulatory infractions are subject to fines, revocation of fishing permits. Repeat offenders may be subject to imprisonment.
If a control reveals the presence of juveniles in a catch, the Marine Research Institute has the authority to close the relevant fishing grounds and the Icelandic Coast Guard called to monitor closed areas.
Moreover, all transactions recorded at the harbor have to be reported to the Directorate of Fisheries allowing a separate audit of the catches brought ashore. The general good conformity between TAC and the real catch every year confirms the overall reliability of the good management of fisheries.
4) The dedication to the continuous improvement of effective management of the Icelandic fisheries. Research and Development is at the heart of this dedication, with a special focus on the effects of fishing gear on the ecosystem. Constant efforts by the fisheries are made to reduce negative impacts on the ecosystem.
The Icelandic government and the Marine Research Institute are ever-increasing their communication and cooperation with international institutions and bodies such as the FAO and the INES. This allows for better management of fishing grounds outside of the Icelandic Exclusive Economic Zone (IEEZ), increased sustainability of fish stocks, and an improvement of international standards for fishing management.
Responsible fishing remains the first commitment of the Icelandic fishing industry and authorities. All participants have the ambition to be world leaders in the responsible management of this fragile natural resource and its environment.