In the period since 1976 a fishery management system based on scientific recommendation has been developed for the fisheries in Iceland. In the early years, this was very much a learning process and total catches from some major stocks often exceeded recommendations by far leading to frequent changes in legislation and a series of adjustments. In recent years the catches have been controlled closely by a system of individual transferable quotas (ITQ).
The first catch quotas in Iceland were established in the nephrops, inshore shrimp and Iceland scallop fisheries in 1973-1974. In 1975 individual quotas were introduced in the herring fishery and in 1980 in the capelin fishery. No such measures were in effect in the demersal fisheries.
This is the story for the groundfish fisheries in brief:
1976-1983 Restrictions in TAC and effort
In 1976, marine scientists warned that fishing mortality in the cod fisheries seemed alarmingly high, that the spawning stock was threatened and that this level of catch could not be sustained. They advised a total allowable catch (TAC) of 230,000 MT for that year but the catch was 350,000 MT. Effort restrictions were then imposed. Trawlers were at first allowed to fish for 323 days a year, later only 215 days. The system was clearly very uneconomic.
Worst of all, by 1983, the spawning stock of cod was estimated at an all time low, just over 200,000 tonnes, fishing mortality was very high and catches were 100,000 tonnes in excess of recommendations.
1984 Individual vessel quotas
This was the year of new measures in the demersal fisheries. A system of individual vessel quotas with some transfer rights was introduced. By this law, each fishing vessel received a fraction of the TACs in the beginning. This allocation of quota was based on the ship's catches in the three previous years. TACs and individual vessel quotas were imposed for cod, haddock, saithe, redfish, Greenland halibut, plaice and ocean catfish. There was serious disagreement on the necessity and fairness of such a system for the fisheries.
1985-1990 Effort option
In 1985 an effort based option in the demersal fisheries was introduced for those that preferred it and a significant number of vessels took that option. More than half of the cod catch, even up to two thirds was effort based in these years and the ships fishing under that option could periodically re-enter the catch quota system with a new track record. Furthermore, vessels of 10 GRT had free access to the fisheries until 1988 and boats under 6 GRT until 1990.
Catches were still far beyond recommendations in this period and in excess of the TACs. TAC was also set beyond the scientific advice. The catch was difficult to control and there was much friction within the fishing industry between those that had opted for the effort based fishing and others that felt that fishery management based on individual vessel quotas was more effective.
1990 The Fisheries Management Act
Finally, a comprehensive and uniform Fisheries Management Act was established in 1990. By this Act, the ITQ system was established for most of the commercial fisheries. They were all subject to vessel catch quotas and there was no effort option for trawlers and the larger boats. The quotas represent shares in the total allowable catch. They are permanent, perfectly divisible and fairly freely transferable.
The fishing year for groundfish stocks was set from Sept 1 to Aug 31 in the following year rather than the calendar year. This was an effort to channel fishing away from the summer months, when quality suffers more quickly and regular factory workers are on vacation.
Since 1991, a number of amendments have been made to the fisheries management system. In August 2006 the legislation was re-issued as Law nr 116/2006, thus including all the changes made to the original 1990 legislation.
The Fisheries Management Act is the cornerstone of the fisheries management system.