November 2004



Landings 2003 (tonnes)










































Icelandic marine fishery landings account for 2.1 per cent of the world’s catches, making Iceland the 12-largest fishing nation worldwide. Domestically the industry is important, being the second most important industry and employing approximately four per cent of the population. The Icelandic fishing grounds are very productive, yielding large amounts of redfish, herring, cod and capelin. The most important species landed into Iceland, both in terms of value and volume are cod, redfish and haddock. Atlantic salmon is an important species for recreational fishing, more so than commercially. While less important than the capture industry, aquaculture is a growing industry, with production dominated by Atlantic Salmon and Arctic Charr. Iceland is the world’s largest producer of farmed charr.


The primary fisheries management objective, detailed in the 1990 Fisheries Management Act, is to promote the conservation and efficient utilisation of marine stocks with a view to ensuring stable employment and settlement. In meeting this objective, the authorities stress the importance of scientific research into fisheries biology and the population dynamics.

The government is a proponent of free trade in fish and fish products both domestically and internationally, together with the elimination of government subsidies that encourage the over-utilisation of living marine resources and lead to environmental damage. The Ministry of Fisheries opposes the use of market access restrictions as a tool for influencing utilisation of marine resources.

The government supports the use of selective fishing gear and good practice to minimize negative impacts on fish stocks or the wider environment. Discards are prohibited and a surveillance programme is in place. The Ministry of Fisheries also aims at applying sustainable methods and use of the natural marine resources in international waters.


TACs, quotas and ITQs

The exploitation of commercially important marine fish species is regulated under a system of tradable catch-quotas allocated to individual vessels (ITQs, Individual Transferable Quotas). These quotas assign a right to catch a specific proportion of the annual TAC of a specific species each year. The quotas can be bought and sold freely.

TAC levels are decided at the end of each fishing year, after a stock assessment has taken place. The fishing year runs from 1 September until 31 August the following year. The Marine Research Institute carries out stock assessments. These are presented to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for review before being issued as formal recommendations to the Icelandic government.

In 1975 Iceland applied Individual Quotas (IQs) to the herring fishery. In 1979 these were made transferable, so developing into the ITQ system present. An ITQ represents shares in the TAC and is allocated to fishing vessels. ITQs apply to all species that are managed by TACs and represent harvest rights. The harvest rights granted are not rights to ownership and do not represent jurisdiction of the resource. ITQs are permanent, divisible and relatively transferable. They can be bought and sold with vessels, or retained with the owner if a new or newly bought vessel of similar size and capacity is introduced to the fleet. If the catch of a vessel amounts to less than 50 per cent of the allocated quota for two fishing years running, the quota will be removed and shared amongst other vessels. Because it is possible to trade quotas, there has been an increased specialisation in the Icelandic fleet.

Two major measures are applied in order to prevent a company or a few companies from dominating the fishing industry through owning most or all of the fishing rights. There are upper limits on the percentage share of major species that can be held by a fishing company or group of companies closely linked by ownership, eg the limit for cod is 12 per cent. The second measure prohibits a company from holding more than 12 per cent of the value of the combined shares for all species with TACs.

In 2001 new legislation was introduced to include small vessels, which includes the majority of the hook-and-line boats, in the TAC system. This applies to vessels smaller than 6 tonnes. These vessels are now included in the ITQ system. However, restrictions apply on transferring from this group to larger vessels. In the same year three additional species, tusk, ling and monkfish, were included in the quota system.


Area closures are a commonly employed management tool. Cod spawning areas are closed for several weeks in late winter and extensive nursery grounds are permanently closed for fishing. Fishing with vessels over 42 metres long is prohibited within 12 nautical miles of most of the coast, and all forms of trawling is prohibited in nursery or spawning areas near the coast. There are however few exceptions including small islands and areas where the 12 nautical mile limit is drawn from cliffs. Smaller trawlers have access to some of these areas. In addition to such permanent measures, the Directorate of Fisheries, together with the Marine Research Institute, may temporarily close areas where there are a large number of juveniles at short notice.

Gear restrictions

Gear restrictions are used to prevent the harvesting of undersized or juvenile fish and to minimize by-catch. One of the most commonly used restrictions is minimum mesh size. Sorting grids are also mandatory in the shrimp and groundfish fishery.

Levies and taxes

Taxes and levies are payable by the industry to the government. This includes a fishing inspection fee and quota transfer fees when trading ITQs. An additional chapter to The Fisheries Act (No. 38, 15 May 1990) adopted in 2002 introduced a levy on fishing rights allocation for Icelandic vessels, also called a resource fee, operating both in and outside the EEZ. The levy is payable by fishing companies from the 1 September 2004 onwards. The resource fee is levied on gross profit, based on the EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) system. The fee is based on the total value of landings minus labour costs, fuel costs, and other operating costs. Initially the tax is set at six per cent, but will rise to 9.5 per cent after seven years.


All vessels are required to hold a commercial fishing permit regardless of what fish species they are targeting. A permit can only be obtained if the vessel is included in the Vessels Registry with the Directorate of Shipping and has been proven seaworthy.

Management plans and harvest control rules

A number of stocks, including cod and capelin, are managed under long-term management plans. These take the form of harvest control rules (HCR), which set maximum and minimum limits on catches with respect to the previous year.

In 2000 the HCR for cod was revised. The rule states that the annual quota should not exceed 25% of the fishable stock and that changes in the annual total cod catch should not exceed 30,000 tonnes from one year to the next. A committee meeting on the Harvest Catch Rule (HCR) in April 2004 suggested that the rule succeeded, but the performance could be enhanced if the limit for annual change of the cod quota should be decreased to 22 per cent.


The development of the sea farming industry is regulated with a view to minimising the risk of diseases from farming installations infecting wild salmon and the danger of interbreeding (genetic pollution) from escapees. The fish farm locations and safety are also regulated. The Marine Research Institute carries out research on locating aquaculture systems and management of environmental impacts. Licensing and surveillance of aquaculture facilities is the responsibility of two different agencies depending on the species being reared. The Directorate of Freshwater under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture supervises facilities producing salmonids (not including sea cages) and other freshwater species whereas the Directorate of Fisheries under the Ministry of Fisheries oversees facilities producing marine species.


Fishing rights in rivers and lakes are connected to the adjoining land. The majority of the area where this is the case is agricultural land, with fishing rights mostly privately owned by farmers. The holders of fishing rights are by law required to form fishing associations. They manage the fish stocks and usually rent or lease fishing rights to angling associations or anglers. Stock assessments are based on logbook entries. Logbooks are located in fishing lodges and it is compulsory for recreational and commercial fishermen to complete them.


The Ministry of Fisheries is responsible for the management of fisheries in Iceland. This includes the development and implementation of legislation and annual decisions on TACs. The Ministry is supported by the Directorate of Fisheries, the Marine Research Institute (MRI) and the Icelandic Fisheries Laboratory (IFL).

The Directorate is responsible for monitoring and inspecting vessels while at sea, as well as landings. The Directorate also issues fishing permits and allocates catch quotas. Landing data is submitted to the Directorate on a daily basis, forming the basis of a near real-time overview of quota uptake.

The MRI undertakes research into the marine environment, including the state of the stocks. In addition to its own research programmes, the Institute works in collaboration with international organizations such as ICES. This includes the TAC setting process in which ICES reviews results and makes joint recommendations on TAC levels.

The Marine Research Institute (MRI) currently concentrates mariculture research on the farming potential for halibut, cod, turbot and abalone. This includes the production of juveniles, selection of brood stock and selective breeding in cooperation with private companies and research institutions. The MRI also seeks to identify the most favourable, areas for mariculture in terms of production and environmental impacts.

The IFL aims to increase the value, quality and safety of marine catches with research into development and dissemination of knowledge and consulting. Their areas of research are mainly the processing and aquaculture sector. The IFL also runs training courses for industry and Universities.

The Institute for Freshwater Fisheries carries out research into freshwater fisheries and the freshwater environment, including stock assessments. The Directorate for Freshwater Fisheries acts as an advisory council to the Ministry for Agriculture. The Directorate’s areas of competence lie in the enforcement of regulations concerning fishing restrictions in inland waters (rivers and lakes) and the administration and enforcement of the Salmonid Fisheries Act. The Directorate manages licensing and regulatory enhancement, as well as fish culture activities, including fish farming and salmon ranching.

The Fisheries Association of Iceland represents the fishery sector’s interests domestically and internationally. The areas of discussion include environmental issues and responsible resource utilization. The Fisheries Association is a member of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations (ICFA). The Association represents seven main organizations in the fisheries sector, including both employers and employees. The organizations include:

· Employers:

· Vessel owners

· Processing plant organization

· Employees:

· Seaman’s organization

· Enginists’ organization

· Offices’ organization

· Worker’s Union

· Small boat owner’s organization

The Fishery Association provides a mutual board for discussions for these organizations and enables local and international coalitions and multi-cooperative work.


The Icelandic fisheries management system is underpinned by the 1990 Fisheries Management Act (No 38/1990). This defines the management objectives as promoting the conservation and efficient utilisation of marine stocks with a view to ensuring stable employment and settlement. Marine fish stocks are stipulated as being the property of the Icelandic nation.

The legislation that currently relates to inshore fishing activities is the Salmonid Fishing Act of 1970, which has been amended several times since. A major provision of this Act prohibits salmon fishing at sea, with minor exceptions.


There is limited access for foreign vessels to Icelandic waters. Where this does occur, access is gained through bi- and multi-lateral agreements and quota swaps. Agreements are administered by government bodies and trading in quotas between foreign vessels and Icelandic fishing vessels is prohibited.

Fishing by Icelandic vessels in areas beyond Icelandic waters has been increasing in recent years. These vessels nonetheless remain subjected to Icelandic laws and regulations, including technical measures.

Iceland became a signatory to the voluntary FAO Code of Conduct in 1995 and ratified the UN Fish Stocks agreement in 1997.

Iceland is a contracting party of NEAFC (North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission), NAFO (Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Organisation), NASCO (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Vessels registered in foreign ports need to have Icelandic fishing inspectors onboard when operating in Icelandic waters. This applies to both vessels from the EU as well as fisheries under the supervision of NAFO. Iceland is also a party to OSPAR (Oslo and Paris Commissions for the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic).

As a number of the Icelandic stocks are straddling or migratory, Iceland has many fishing agreements. These include bilateral agreements with the European Union (EU) concerning the Icelandic redfish and capelin, and also many agreements with Norway. Multilateral agreements include arrangements with Norway, Greenland/Denmark, the Faeroe Islands and Russia.

Further details on agreements and conventions to which Iceland is a party to can be found with the Icelandic Ministry for Fisheries and the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs.


The public sector’s major role is in resource management, research, education and training, and supervision of quality control systems. The fish processing and harvesting industry is mostly privately owned and liberalised. Local government may intervene however in the event that a vessel may be sold to an individual from a different municipality. The municipality has the right to offer to buy the vessel or to encourage individuals from the same municipality to buy the vessel, before an external person or organisation can buy it.


Public transfers to the marine capture fisheries sector fisheries sector in 2001 equated approximately US$ 39.1 million. The costs mainly covered income tax deduction for fishermen and general services, such as the Marine Research Institute and fisheries surveillance carried out by the Coast Guard. The amount of financial transfers had risen by approximately US$ 5.6 million since 2000, which went mostly to the Marine Research Institute and the Directorate of Fisheries, which was meant for the harvesting and processing sector.


The outlook for the Iceland fishing industry is considered positive. Catches and exports are expected to remain stable and the economic performance of the capture and processing industry are predicted to be good. The aquaculture industry is anticipate to grow further, with charr production possibly exceeding that of salmon.


Information Centre of the Icelandic Ministry for Fisheries:

Ministry for Fisheries:

Marine Research Institute:

Directorate for Freshwater Fisheries:

Institute for Freshwater Fisheries:

Icelandic Fisheries Laboratories:

Fisheries Association of Iceland:

Statistics Iceland: