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Iceland Knows How to Fish


For years, we have heard that ocean fish are being wiped out by over fishing, and for many fisheries that seems sadly true. On the Georges and Grand banks, cod stocks have been depressed for years. In many other once prime fishing grounds, the situation is as bad, with dire consequences for a burgeoning global population that needs protein.

But there are some bright spots, where the fish are holding their own, or even increasing, despite intense fishing. Iceland's fishery, well to the east of ours but comprising many of the same species, is one. For the last dozen or so years, Iceland has perfected an individual transferable quota system. So its cod and haddock, once in much the same parlous straits as ours, have made stunning comebacks. Further, fishing-boat operators and owners actually make money.

Every year, quotas are set for important commercial species, based partly on the previous year's catch, but mostly on the recommendations of fisheries scientists. Using echo-sounding, the Icelandic Marine Research Institute's three research vessels measure the size of schools. Operators are permitted to sell, swap or hire out their quotas. Further, no operator is allowed to control more than 10 percent of the quota for important species, such as cod.

Over the last decade, the size of the Icelandic fishing fleet has shrunk by about a third. In the 70s and 80s, the fleet grew rapidly, followed in the early 90s with a collapse of fish stocks. This history parallels that of New England's fishery. The difference is that fish recovery here has been uncertain, or, with cod, simply hasn't happened.

Iceland's experience with fishing quotas suggests what could result in U.S. and Canadian coastal fisheries if similar practices were followed. But then, the Icelanders take their fishing much more seriously than we do because it underpins a huge 40 percent of their national economy. And it helps give the 280,000 Icelanders one of the world's highest standards of living. (And the highest per-capita number of Ph.D.'s.)

New Bedford, take note!

This story ran in The Providence Journal on 4/17/2001.

2001 The Providence Journal Company.


   2008 Fred H. Hutchison. All Rights Reserved.

Edited on: May 19, 2006