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Icelandic Fishing Sustainability 

Sustainability is just as much about supporting fishing communities and economic empowerment as it is about natural resource conservation. The fishing industry in Iceland doesn’t only support fishermen – it also supports adjacent industries like processing, technology and software. A sustainable fishery is one that’s willing to close its doors if needed, and for an island nation like Iceland, sustaining its most valuable resource source is paramount. The strict fisheries management system in Iceland makes its fishing economy one of the most technologically advanced, efficient and sustainable in the world.

Here’s more detail about what makes Icelandic fisheries management so unique and the country a global leader: 

  • Icelandic fisheries are managed by a catch limitation system that allots each species a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) each year. 
  • Individual vessels are then given a specific share of that catch, which is transferable between vessels and prevents overfishing.
  • After each years’ catch and during the fishing season, the Directorate of Fisheries, in collaboration with the Icelandic Marine Fisheries Institute, monitor the volume, species and fish size of all fish landed in the waters surrounding Iceland, and set the following years’ catch quota.
  • If necessary, based on scientific evaluation of the health of fisheries and ecosystem on the whole, the Directorate of Fisheries and Icelandic Marine Fisheries Institute stop fishing immediately.
  • To further protect the ecosystem, Iceland enforces gear restrictions, fishing area restrictions and fishing area closers to protect juvenile and spawning fish. 
  • Discarding bycatch (or non-target species) is prohibited in Iceland. This means all fish caught must be landed and sold in the markets. This bycatch law is important because when bycatch is discarded at sea it impacts the authorities’ understanding of the function of the whole ecosystem – discarded fish equals lost catch data. In Iceland, fisheries are closed if the target catch is too small, but also if the other, non-target catch populations fall below the size limit. The vast majority of bycatch species (especially bottom dwelling species) will die anyway if they’re returned to the sea, which is a loss of valuable protein that could otherwise be consumed/used. 
  • Lastly, Iceland uses cutting-edge fish processing technologies to reduce waste – up to 80% of Icelandic fish are used (a stark contrast to the world average of 50-60%).

Even the Icelandic currency, which features a cod, illuminates its commitment to sustaining its fish populations, and how important this resource is to them. Icelandic fishing sustainability is so important, people in Iceland will choose and enjoy many fish species that aren’t yet known or demanded in other markets – this is partly because the export of valuable fish, like cod, is an important pillar to the Icelandic economy, but also because some of these less-known species are absolutely delicious!

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