– April 7, 2001
ENGLAND'S fishing community, which has been struggling with
problems of dwindling stocks, catch quotas, even total bans in
some localities, may have something to learn from Iceland and
the frustrations of earning a living while dealing with
That northern island
nation between Greenland and Norway is proportionally far more
dependent on fishing than New England but has made major
strides in reaching sustainable catch levels that virtually
guarantee its permanence as an economic resource.
Iceland's minister of fisheries, in Boston recently to speak
at an international seafood show, expressed pride in his
country's 25-year effort to achieve something near equilibrium
between the need to harvest fish and the need to protect them
well enough so they can produce a steady supply.
It has not been an easy
process. Iceland had to establish sovereignty over its
fish-rich waters, first by extending its territorial waters
from the standard 3 miles to 4 miles, prior to international
agreements leading to the 200-mile economic zone now accepted
around the world.
Iceland had always been
a major target for other fishing nations, and excluding them
allowed the controls necessary to preserve the island's
fisheries. With a population of only 280,000 living on an
island of 39,769 square miles, the domestic market for fish is
limited, so 97 percent of the catch is exported, mostly to
Europe and the United States.
Enter controls. Iceland
has established flexible limits on fishing, species by
species, that are about 25 percent of the fishable stock per
year, based on cooperation among scientists, the government,
and the industry. These limits are raised or lowered based on
constant sampling of stocks, coupled with brief periods of
total bans to protect fish during spawning periods and to
allow young stock to mature in nursery zones.
take about 220,000 tons of fish a year — cod, herring,
haddock, halibut, prawn, and other species. Mathiesen and his
colleagues are confident that this figure can be gradually
increased to 350,000 tons — an amount that might remain in
place indefinitely based on current practices.*
This experience should
be enormously encouraging to New England fishing interests,
which have some of the same characteristics as Iceland's.
Large and small operations coexist. Many of the species are
the same. There are close ties between shore operations and
fishing crews. A strong sense of independence lives alongside
the restraints. Most important, says Mathiesen, is the
interaction between the industry and the scientists in setting
standards. There lies a lesson for everyone else who makes a
living of going to sea for fish.
This story ran on page
10 of the Boston Globe on 4/7/2001.
©2001 Globe Newspaper
*The figures quoted in
the editorial are for cod only. The total annual Icelandic
catch is approximately 1.5 -2.0 million metric tons.