Iceland Knows How
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.