Here is an important link to the document: Kristjansson, J. and M. Ben-Yami. A Proposal for an Alternative Fisheries Management Regime in the Irish Sea. February 2006.

Written for the Irish Sea, failures and pitfalls in modern fishery management are discussed.


-Fact file-

by Jon Kristjansson

Some facts from Icelandic fisheries, history, fishery limits, fishery management and landings (updated June 2008). Opinions and explanations are mine and do not always agree with the official ones.


First foreign trawlers appeared at Iceland grounds around 1900. Icelanders soon followed, and the catch or landings of cod increased from 100 thousand tons in 1905 to 500 thousand tons in 1925. Landings decreased during WW 2 when foreign trawlers disappeared from the grounds. After the war total landings increased rapidly to 500 thousand tons in 1950. Since then it has decreased and is at the present around 200 thousand tons. Foreign fleets disappeared from Icelandic grounds in 1976 when 200 nm EEZ was introduced. A quota system (maximum allowable catch of cod) was introduced in 1984, ITQ's in 1992, with inclusion of increasing number of species ; haddock, plaice, herring, capelin, saite, redfish and many more.

Landings of cod from Icelandic waters 1905-1999. from a peak of 550 thousand tons in 1954 the catch declined to 260 thousand tons in 2000. The present TAC is 190 thousand tons.

Fishery limits, Cod wars and other measures for stock protection

The fishery limit increased from 4 nautical miles (nm) to 12 nm 1958, 50 nm 1972 and finally to 200 nm 1976. After 1976 foreign trawlers disappeared from Icelandic water . Every increase of the limit led to a Cod war with foreigners. After the disappearance of the foreign fleet it became possible to take measures in order to enhance the stock. The mesh size in the cod end of the trawl increased from 120 mm stretch mesh in 1976, to 155 mm in 1978 in order to protect small fish. Recently, the allowable mesh size has been decreased to 135 mm.

The increase in mesh size in 1976 lead to decrease in landings of small cod. In the years 1970-1976 the average number of landed 3+ cod was 18 millions /year, 1977-1983 landings of 3+ cod were only 4 millions/year. The total landings increased from 350 thousand tons in 1976 to a peak of 470 thousand tons in 1981. Then it suddenly dropped to 300 thousand tons, a minimum since WW 2. Then a quota system was put into force to protect the stock, and a full ITQ system was put on in 1991. Before that, a certain effort limit had been put on the fleet in order to be within the TAC limit set by the authorities/ marine institute. The sudden unexpected drop in the catch in 1983 was the main argument for the introduction of the quota system. The main reason for the drop in stock size at that time was some 25% reduction in weight at age. This was explained by a reduction in the capelin stock. But there were other opinions: The change in fishing pattern, i.e. reduced catch of small fish, lead to increase in stock size and a reduction in food per mouth. The stock adapted to the "new" fishing regime by slimming and increased natural mortality. Short to say, under this top-down fishing pattern the landings have not reached the 300 thousand tons limit which in 1983 was considered to be disastrous!

Along with the quota system, where each quota holder has a tonnage limit for each of the different species, and the there are other measures taken in order to protect the fish stocks. Along with mesh size regulations, these are mainly closures of certain areas at different times, such as spawning grounds and nursery grounds, different rules for various types of gear and vessels and finally, the fact that the Marine Institute has the power to immediately close an area against all fishing for one or two weeks at a time if the proportion of small fish overrides a certain limit.

The limit for cod is at present such that if cod smaller than 55 cm overrides 25%, by numbers, in the catch (according to observers measurements), the area will be closed for one or two weeks. Persistent situation with small fish can lead to permanent closure for unlimited time ('till the small cods are eaten up by the big ones).

Landings of other ground fish species

During the period of ITQ's, landings of other ground fish species have declined drastically. The figure below shows landings of the most important species, Redfish, Haddock, Saithe and Greenland halibut.

Situation 2002

After a slight increase in the cod fishery 1996-1999, the Marine Institute advised a new cut. The TAC was cut 30 thousand tons 2000 and again 30 thousand tons in 2001, down to 190 thousand tons. The marine scientists claimed that they had overestimated the stock size in 1999 (!). So, after building up the stock for many years the state of the stock is still worse. This is called scientific fishery.

Kill the jiggers

Until recently, jiggers have been able to catch haddock, catfish and tusk at will when fishing for cod under the quota system. Therefore, the fleet has aimed at these species and all the catch has been brought to the market. Now, their quota in these previously "free" species is so limited that the jiggers have two choices; bind their boats or discard the species they have no quota for.

For several years each boat has been allocated 21 fishing day per year. The days were on 'whole day' basis, if the left the harbour, that was one fishing day. Now, they have been cut, down to 19 days per year but now the days are on hour basis, that is they have 19 x 24 hours for fishing each year! This is real protection of fish stocks.

Update 2007

Above was the situation 2002. Since then the status of the cod stock is still worse, and the quotas are now on fewer hands. The days-at-sea system allocated to the jiggers is no longer there. ALL fisheries are now in the ITQ system. Big "small" boats have bought quotas from smaller "small" boats - that sector is now also under compression.

The advice for the fishing year 2007/ 2008, given in June 2007 was to reduce the catch of cod to 130 thousand tons. Fishermen and the fishing industry have argued that this is far to low, as fishing is very good. If there was bad fishing from shortage of fish this would have been understandable but that is not the fact. Cod is plentiful on all grounds, fishermen try to avoid it in order to catch other species like haddock and saithe.

The scientific advice on cod catch - and actual landings 1978-2008

The quota cut would have been understandable if the cod fishery was bad. But that is not the case:

The fishing is extremely good, long liners getting 200-400 kg/bale, everybody avoiding and discarding cod, the fish is hungry (eating bait from the long line) and thin. There is shortage of food, birds starving no sandeels,(eaten up by cod and now also a huge haddock stock), etc. Weight at age is now the lowest on record. Therefore, the stock is "lighter" (less tonnage) than ever so they advice cuts to "build up" the stock. This is the classical orthodox advice: Cut down to avoid "overfishing", in a situation where the cod is actually under- exploited. Cutting fisheries in a hunger situation - is the worst that can be done.

Weight at age 1994-2007. Growth has been declining last decade


The stock has exploded in the last few years. Quotas have gone up, a problematic situation in a cod cut, when the species share the same grounds. Now experiments are made with "no cod take trawls" and "only haddock attractive baits". And the oil price rises - and exhaust increases (pr. kg caught fish).

Catch of haddock has more than doubled from 2002

Recent information suggests that the haddock stock is dwindling. Growth rate has dropped markedly last 2 years or so.

Haddock, weight at at age has dropped marketly

Update 2008

The quotas for 2008-2009 have now been recommenced: Cod is still 130 thou. tons but the haddock has been cut by 25%. The cod stock is said to be lower than last year, despite the severe cut last year. Reduced fishing does not seem to help the stock; rather it proves the rule; Cuts lead to further cuts an smaller stocks. The reason can be summarized in fishing does much less impact on the stocks than anticipated, the catch is the main parameter in Baranov's catch equation (N=C/F) the F, or rather the Z, remains much the same, therefore the stock is guesstimated to be smaller, which leads to recommendation of further cuts, and so on..

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