Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister for Fisheries has signed a regulation signed to increase Icelandic capelin quota by 147,280 tonnes An extraordinary capelin season will be a strong driver for Iceland's economy as bumper catches means high income from hunting fees from ships

The 2024 Icelandic capelin fishery faces uncertainty as Marine Research Institute advice warns against any fishing. Photo: Department of Fisheries

In light of advice from the Marine Research Institute that no capelin fishing should take place in February, Icelandic fishing communities may face challenges, reports Icelandic news outlet

The institute’s guidance suggests that, for Icelandic vessels to receive a reasonable share, capelin fishing should exceed approximately 39,000 tonnes. This recommendation is influenced by the provisions of Iceland’s fisheries agreements with other nations.

At a recent winter conference, the Marine Research Institute indicated that there was no need to alter the previous advice, emphasising that no capelin fishing should occur during the 2023/2024 season. However, the institute expressed the intention to reassess the situation in February, hoping that capelin might migrate between the waters of Greenland and Iceland or that there would be a congregation of capelin beneath the ice.

If the advice changes in February, it is not definitively expected to result in a substantial capelin quota. A modified recommendation may lead to a relatively small, or even negligible, allocation of capelin quotas to Icelandic fleets.

When the total capelin quota is determined, typically in line with the Marine Research Institute’s advice, 15% is allocated to Greenland. Norway receives 5%, plus an additional approximately 31,000 tonnes under agreements with Iceland in the Smugunn (Smutthavet in Norwegian). The remaining 5% is allocated to the Faroe Islands.

Two agreements on maritime demarcation in the southern part of the Smutt Sea have entered into force after a long process of talks

Despite the significant share allocated to Norwegian vessels, their fishing opportunities are restricted by agreements specifying certain areas for fishing. Norwegian vessels are limited to using nets and have a shorter fishing season compared to other vessels. Additionally, only 30 Norwegian vessels are permitted in Icelandic territorial waters for capelin fishing, and they can only fish north of the 64.30 latitude. There have been instances where Norwegian vessels were unable to catch their entire allocated quota, allowing Icelandic vessels to claim the unused portion.

Based on these agreements, it is estimated that a total capelin quota of 115,000 tonnes would be necessary for Icelanders to receive 50% of the allocated fishing opportunities. However, the advice from the past three years indicates quotas of approximately 460,000 tonnes in 2022/2023, nearly 870,000 tonnes in 2021/2022, and just over 127,000 tonnes in 2020/2021. The two preceding years experienced capelin shortages.

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