Management plan

Fisheries Management Plan - Icelandic Cod

The management of fisheries in Iceland is the responsibility of the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. The management is based on law. Regulations are issued annually and they can be different between years. The Marine Research Institute (MRI) in Iceland and The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) issue scientific advice on fisheries and harvesting of the fish stocks. The enforcement of laws and regulations is with the Directorate of Fisheries and the Icelandic Coast Guard.

Management unit

Cod fishing (Gadus morhua) in the Icelandic Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Icelandic authorities (Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture) manage fisheries within the Icelandic EEZ, which is mainly within ICES area Va. Current distribution of the stock is primarily within the Icelandic EEZ.

Harvesting Policy

In order to calculate the annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) a harvest control rule (HCR) is used based on the mean of the TAC in the current year and 20% of the biomass of 4 year and older cod in the assessment year, as follows:

TACy+1 = (aB4+,y + TACy)/2,

where y refers to the assessment year, B4+ refers to biomass of 4 year and older cod and a (the catch rate) is set as 0.2 when SSB > 220.000 tonnes.

If the spawning stock biomass (SSB) falls below 220 000 tonnes (SSBtrigger), the catch rate a shall be reduced and will be calculated as a=SSB/ SSBtrigger.

This HCR has been evaluated by ICES and found to be consistent with the precautionary approach.1

The management strategy for Iceland cod is to maintain the exploitation rate at the rate which is consistent with the precautionary approach and that generates maximum sustainable yield (MSY) in the long term. The medium term management strategy is to ensure that the spawning stock biomass (SSB) in 2015 will be above 220 000 tonnes (estimated size in 2009) with high probability. In accordance with this general aim the harvest control above rule was adopted by Icelandic authorities in June 2009 for the next period of 5 years. This aims at 20% catch rate of 4-year and older cod. The harvest control rule will be reviewed by the end of this period.

Limits with respect to precautionary management

In the advice given by the MRI account is taken of fishing mortality in the calculation. On the one hand as catch as a proportion of reference stock size (B4+) and on the other hand as fishing mortality of 5-10 year old fish in numbers. Uncertainty in the estimation of current stock size is the foundation of the precautionary approach to fisheries management. According to ICES the SSB has been above Blim 2007-2009.2 As mentioned above the HCR has been evaluated by ICES and found to be in accordance to the precautionary approach. See detailed discussion in “Harvesting Policy”.

The Minister of Fisheries, having obtained the recommendations of the Marine Research Institute, shall issue a regulation determining the total allowable catch (TAC) to be caught for a designated period or fishing season from the individual exploitable marine stocks in Icelandic waters for which it is deemed necessary to limit the catch. Harvest rights provided for by law 116/2006 are calculated on the basis of this amount.

Fisheries management system

The fisheries are managed by a catch quota system. The annual quota is allocated to individual vessels (in accordance to the vessel’s fixed quota share of the species subject to TAC) or vessel groups (coastal fisheries) so that the sum of quotas for individual vessels and vessel groups equals the TAC according to the HCR. Within the system there are various measures to make the fisheries economically viable, together with measures to coordinate catch composition and the TAC and to reduce discard; discarding is prohibited by law.3

Special coastal fisheries are allowed. To be able to participate in coastal fisheries a special license is needed; coastal fisheries are only allowed during the summer. A quota is issued and distributed between four defined areas and months. Detailed regulations are issued on number of gear, fishing days and allowable catch in each fishing trip. The catch fished in these fisheries is not counted against the vessel’s individual quota.

Support measures

Real time area closures: A short-term sudden closure system has been in force since 1976 with the objective to protect juvenile fish. If, in a given area, there are several consecutive sudden closures, the minister of Fisheries can issue a regulation to close the area for a longer time period, thus directing the fleet to other areas. The Directorate of Fisheries and the Coast Guard supervises these closures in collaboration with the MRI.

Temporary area closures: The major spawning grounds of cod are closed during the main spawning season. In addition there are gear and mesh size restrictions in place. The restrictions are mainly to protect juvenile fish but also to decrease the effort towards bigger spawners.

Permanent area closures: Many areas have been closed permanently. These closures are based on knowledge of the biology of various stocks with the aim of protecting juveniles and vulnerable marine ecosystems, e.g. coldwater corals.

Scientific advice

The MRI advises the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture on the exploitation of the cod stock in June each year; ICES provides advice as well; both ICES and the MRI advise on research and harvesting policy in general. The recommendation given by the MRI is peer reviewed by the Advisory Committee (ACOM) of ICES every year.

Process for making decisions on TAC

The Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture decides on the TAC of the cod stock for each fishing year (Sept-Aug) in accordance to law, based on HCR and above mentioned advice.

Consultation with stakeholders in fisheries

A special consultation group of the MRI meets every year and reviews different sources and information regarding the cod stock and cod fisheries in the Icelandic EEZ. One of the more important sources of information used by MRI in its research is logbooks from skippers which are sent to the MRI. Account is taken of these sources and information in research, quantification and advice as appropriate. The consultation group consists of experts from the MRI and fleet managers and skippers from many places around the country which conduct fisheries on small and large vessels with different gears. When the advice has been made available the Minister consults with representatives from the main stakeholders before decision is taken and regulation on commercial fisheries is issued.

The means of implementing the management approach, including main provisions for monitoring, control, surveillance and enforcement

The Icelandic Directorate of Fisheries is an independent administrative body responsible to the Minister. The Directorate is responsible for the implementation of the Act on Fisheries Management and related legislation, for day-to-day management of fisheries and for supervising the enforcement of fisheries management rules. The Directorate of Fisheries works in accordance to law no 36/1992, no 116/2006 and no 57/1996. Accordingly, The Directorate of Fisheries issues fishing permits to vessels and allocates catch quotas. Other duties include imposing penalties for illegal catches. The Directorate supervises the transfer of quotas and quota shares between fishing vessels, controls the reporting of data on the landings of individual vessels and monitors the weighing of catches. The Directorate provides supervision on board fishing vessels and in ports of landing, which involves inspecting the composition of catches, fishing equipment and handling methods.

The Icelandic Coast Guard´s main tasks are fisheries inspection at sea and monitoring of the EEZ and reception of required notifications from vessels.

Management measures relevant to ecosystem effects of the fishery

As mentioned above, large areas within the Icelandic EEZ are closed for fishing, either temporarily or permanently. These closures are aimed at protecting juveniles and spawning fish and protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems. Restrictions on the use of gear are also in effect. Thus the use of bottom trawl and pelagic trawl is not permitted inside a 12-mile limit measured from low-water line along the northern coast of Iceland. Similar restrictions are implemented elsewhere based on engine size and size of vessels and large bottom trawlers are not permitted to fish closer than 12 nautical miles to the shore.

In many areas special rules regarding fishing gear apply, e.g. a requirement of using a sorting grid when fishing for shrimp to avoid juveniles and small fish and an obligation to use bycatch- or juvenile grid when fishing for pelagic species in certain areas to protect other species and juveniles .

It is the policy of the Icelandic government to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs;cold-water corals and hydrothermal vents), from significant adverse impact from bottom contacting gear. Known cold-water coral reefs and hydrothermal vents are protected through permanent closures. The MRI provides advice on closures to protect VMEs which are promptly processed within the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.4


Primary laws and regulations regarding fisheries management:

  • The Act on Fisheries Management as subsequently amended No 116/2006.
  • The Act concerning the Treatment of Commercial Marine Stocks as subsequently amended No 57/1996.
  • The Act on Fishing in Iceland’s Exclusive Fishing Zone as subsequently amended No 797/1997.

Regulations are issued annually with amendments. Primary regulations are:

  • Regulation no 742/2008 on commercial fisheries, which is issued every with amendments.
  • Regulation no 601/2003 on utilisation of catch and by-products.
  • Regulation no 557/2007 on logbooks.
  • Regulation no 224/2006 on weighing of catch as subsequently amended.

1 ICES letter to the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture dated 20 January 2010.

2 State of Marine Stocks in Icelandic Waters 2009/2010. Prospects for the Quota Year 2010/2011. Marine Research In Iceland no. 153 (2010); ICES Advice 2010. Book 2. (2009).

3 According to law no 57/1997 all catch has to be landed and provisions on discard are also in regulation no 601/2003.

4 An amendment to Act No 79/1997 on Fishing in Iceland’s Exclusive Economic Zone provides for the prohibition of fishing activities with bottom-contacting gear to especially protect vulnerable benthic habitats.

Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture