Iceland’s influential Marine Research Institute (MRI) has recently published an encouraging new report on the country’s cod stocks, the most crucial fishery for Iceland’s economy and European fish processing markets.
The MRI research has found that the 2008 cod stock was the strongest it has been since annual research trips began in the autumn of 1996.
Icelandic fishing quotas are usually based on Marine Research Institute findings which are always rigidly enforced, given the importance of fishing to the Icelandic economy. Two years ago Iceland dramatically slashed its cod quota to the dismay of fish markets in Britain and elsewhere, but last year some of that cut back was restored.
The Institute has released the final report on its autumn 2008 research mission which suggests that the cod stock last year might well have been higher than the long-term average since 1955. The fish are also larger in size, but it is too early to know if this encouraging news this will lead to further catch quota increases later this year.
The findings have surprised many observers since cod consumption is on the increase in Europe and North America and is in demand by emerging economies like China. Fishing technology has also improved which means that trawlers are far more efficient than a few decades ago. The increase in cod stocks can also be attributed to restricted fishing quotas in recent years aimed at saving the declining fish stock.
A fishing dispute is heating up between two unlikely countries – Canada and Denmark – over the ownership of Hans Island a tiny barren atoll off the coast of Greenland.
Northern shrimp is at the centre of the dispute.
The Canadian Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea last week accused Denmark of overfishing in international waters off the coast of Newfoundland, and has issued a warning that vessels from Greenland, which remain a Danish protectorate and the Faroe Islands that they will be barred from Canadian ports unless they agree to adhere to a 334-tonne shrimp quota established under the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) conservation agreement.
A Canadian government spokesman said: “Denmark has “unilaterally” set a 3,100-tonne quota for its Greenlandic and Faroese fleets in the “3L” section of ocean just beyond Canada’s 350-kilometre economic zone, which “sets a dangerous precedent that could impact conservation of the species”.
Hans Island is the smallest of three islands between that part of Canada and Greenland in an area of sea known as the Kennedy Channel. Its sovereignty has been the subject of dispute between Canada and Denmark for some years.
Denmark’s share of the shrimp quota amounts to just one per cent of the total catch allocation, while Canada has 80 per cent of the quota. The Canadian Embassy in Ottawa has so far declined to comment on the warning which could mean that Greenland and Faroese vessels will have to find other countries to land their catches.
Virtually all Iceland trawlers in the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) region of the country have been returning to port in the past few days to protest over a Government plan to take away one of their few income tax “perks”. Vestmannaeyjar is one of the largest fishing regions in Iceland.
It has also had the unusual step of uniting the two sides in the industry – the fishing unions and the country’s trawler owners association.
They are also angry over proposals to re-distribute fishing quotas and to impose a levy on exports of unprocessed fish.
Called the fishermen’s rebate, the tax scheme, which is causing the most concern, is the only one of its kind in the country and has been running for more than 50 years. The current rebate is around € 5.5 (C$8.25) for every one day spent at sea. Both the owners and the fishermen say it is a modest compensation for a fisherman’s long absence from their home and families.
A Spokesman for the Iceland Fishing Vessel Owners Association said: “These tax breaks have been in place since 1954. Those who want them eliminated cite that vessels are now not what they were etc – i.e working conditions are now much better. “
Things have certainly moved on – also in the private and public sector where people receive tax free travel expenses to cover food and accommodation when staying away from their natural habitat. Fishermen look at their tax breaks as a somewhat similar thing.
He said he could not see the proposal going through the Althing (Iceland’s Parliament) without a major political fight. It was also being suggested that the tax breaks should be fitted into a ‘one system fits all’ day allowance system.
In a separate move all Icelanders (including fishermen) face a big increase in income tax, VAT and alcohol duties as the government tries to get the economy back on its feet.
The world catch amounted to 92million tonnes in 2006.
The greatest volume came from the Pacific Ocean – approximately 50% of the world catch.
The second in rank came the Atlantic Ocean – approximately 20% of the world catch.
Of individual species the Peruvian anchovy was the largest, 7.6 million tonnes or 8.5% of total world catch.
The catch of Alaska pollock, the second in rank, was 2.9 million tonnes.
The biggest fishing nation is China catching over 16% of the world catch.
Iceland ranked number 16 on the world list with about 1.6% of the world catch.
Cod population 1968-1972 (left) and 2003-2008 (right) (Credit: Janet Nye, NEFSC/NOAA)
About half of 36 fish stocks in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, many of them commercially valuable species, have been shifting northward over the last four decades, with some stocks nearly disappearing from U.S. waters as they move farther offshore, according to a study by NOAA researchers.
The findings, published in the November edition of Marine Ecology Progress Series, show the impact of changing coastal and ocean temperatures on fisheries from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to the Canadian border.
Janet Nye, a postdoctoral researcher at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. and the lead author of the study, analyzed research vessel survey data collected every spring from 1968 through 2007. The study focused on familiar fish species, including Atlantic cod, haddock, yellowtail and winter flounders, spiny dogfish and Atlantic herring, as well as several less well-known species like blackbelly rosefish.
Historic ocean temperature records and long-term processes like the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation dating back to 1850 were also analyzed to put recent temperature increases into context.
“During the last forty years, many familiar stocks have been shifting to the north where ocean waters are cooler, or staying in the same general area but moving into deeper, cooler\ waters than where they traditionally have been found,” Nye said. “They all seem to be adapting to changing temperatures and finding places where their chances of survival as a population are greater.”
Nye and coauthors Jason Link, Jonathan Hare and William Overholtz of NEFSC selected the 36 species to study because these were consistently caught in high numbers in the Center’s annual spring bottom trawl surveys. NEFSC conducts annual spring and fall trawl surveys and has the world’s longest time series of standardized fishery population data.
The researchers looked at where the fish were caught and their total population weight in each year of the survey. For each stock, they estimated the center of abundance, or where the bulk of the fish were found, as well as average depth, the range or area that the stock occupied, and the average temperature at which the stock was found.
They also took into account fishing activities on the species over time, as well as natural cycles in ocean temperature. Ocean temperatures in the northwest Atlantic have increased since the 1960s and 1970s, and the authors found significant changes in species distribution consistent with warming in 24 of the 36 stocks studied.
Ten of the 36 stocks examined had significantly expanded their range, while 12 had significantly reduced it. Changes in a species range can be caused by both temperature changes and fishing activity, with heavily fished stocks appearing more sensitive to climate change and often showing a larger shift. Seventeen of the 36 stocks occupied increasingly greater depths, and three stocks occupied increasingly shallower waters. However, the temperature at which each stock was found did not change over time, suggesting that fish are moving to remain within their preferred temperature range.
While consumers will find familiar fish species at their local fish markets for the foreseeable future, fisherman may have to travel farther to catch some species until eventually it will not be economical.
The authors say the study has implications beyond the Northeast U.S. “It is another example of the need for an ecosystem-based management approach to our fisheries,” said coauthor Jason Link, a fisheries biologist at NEFSC. “Many factors, temperature among them, affect the status of a fish stock, and all of these influences need to be considered in management decisions. Looking at ‘the big picture’ helps put each piece of the puzzle in perspective.”
Jón Bjarnason, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture recently gave a speech at the International Professional Inshore and Small Scale Fishers Meeting in Biarritz, France.
He told the attendees that Icelandic sustainable fish catches have been approximately 2 million tonnes annually, accounting for 1.8 to 2.5% of the world total catches.
The annual catches within the Icelandic Exclusive Economic Zone have been approximately 1,450,000 tons and around 500,000 tons beyond the Icelandic Exclusive Economic Zone. The total annual market value of exported Icelandic marine products is approximately $2 billion US dollars.
In 2005 Iceland ranked 14th of the world’s total catches with 1.7 million tonnes or 1.8%. Fishing has been an important activity in Iceland ever since the country was settled and has provided the basis for the country’s progress and economic growth during the past century.
Considering recent events in Iceland, including the melt down of the banking sector, sustainable fisheries have proven to be the fundamental pillar of Iceland’s economy and social structure and will continue to do so for the years to come.
Icelandic fisheries will provide over 40% of all exports value in 2009 and it is the single most important exporting industry in Iceland.
New moves are being made to head off the possibility of another mackerel dispute involving Iceland.
Last week the main mackerel fishing countries, headed by the European Union and Norway meeting in Edinburgh failed to reach agreement on a multination quota for next year. Now, in the hope of avoiding trouble, Iceland’s fisheries minister Jon Bjarnasson has officially accepted an invitation sent to him from the European Union, the Faroe Islands and Norway asking his country to participate in North East Atlantic mackerel quota setting in March.
This is the first time Iceland has been asked to attend.
A statement from the Ministry of Fisheries says that all four administrations are agreed that the mackerel stocks should be harnessed sustainably and agree on the importance of a united policy to maintain stocks. The news comes shortly after the Icelandic minister gave his approval for a unilateral 130,000 tonne mackerel quota in 2010.
Iceland has been lobbying hard for a place at the table for several years; but repeated refusal by the other three parties led Iceland to issue its own mackerel quota; and some argue that too-high quotas have been deliberately set to force the EU, Faroes and Norway’s hand.
The problem arises because mackerel are relatively new to Icelandic waters and no tradition of commercial mackerel operations existed before Icelandic vessels first began fishing for mackerel two years ago.
The Director of the Icelandic Marine Research Institute Johann Sigurdsson is confident that the institute’s recommendations to limit the fishing allowances for cod, resulting in a quota cut by one third in 2007, were successful. Last week, Sigurdsson told Icelandic news that they definitely believe the reduction is delivering results.
The institute’s latest conclusions on the condition of the cod stock are positive. The cod stock’s overall index is slightly higher than last year. In 2008 the index hadn’t been higher since the annual measuring of the size of the cod stock began in the autumn of 1996.
This growth is traced directly back to the quota cut of 2007, a controversial decision at the time. Furthermore, the measuring of the length of the fish shows that the number of cod longer than 70 centimetres is higher this year than in 2008. Last year, such long fish hadn’t been seen in such quantities since the measuring first began. In addition to length, the cod’s weight is also above average.
Pacific Marine Expo is the largest commercial marine tradeshow on the West Coast of the United States. Serving all aspects of the market, including commercial vessels owners, commercial fishermen, boat builders and seafood processors, this annual event covers it all.
The 2009 show dates are Nov 19 – 21 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington.
Marport will be exhibiting in booth # 748.
The Spanish government has finally relented and agreed to allow its fishing companies to install armed guards on its trawlers operating in pirate infested waters.
The Spanish trawler Alakrana and her 36-strong crew were captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean over a month ago and there was an outcry from the fishing industry when Madrid said it would be against Spanish law to put its troops or police on fishing vessels.
However, Madrid has now met the industry half way by agreeing to armed private security guards. Deputy prime minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told journalists after a cabinet meeting the new law would apply to Spanish-flagged ships outside Spanish waters to guard against risk to people and property.
‘Security may be offered by guards using authorised weapons suitable for effectively complying with prevention and protection duties,’ she said.
Meanwhile, the government said it was working on all fronts to free the crew of the Alakrana, a tuna-fishing vessel captured by pirates on Oct. 2.
Two of the suspected pirates were captured by a Spanish naval ship and have been brought to Spain to face trial on charges of terrorism and robbery.
Last year crew members of another Spanish boat were freed by pirates in the area after a $1.2 million ransom payment, according to a Somali official.
Pirates have turned their guns on European fishing boats in recent weeks and in one incident recently armed guards on a French trawler opened fire on their attackers and successfully beat them off.