The Conference generated a lively discussion, between quota and big business enthusiasts, mainly Icelandic economists, and quota sceptics and the underlying science critics. In this respect absence was felt of Icelandic fishermen’s representatives, themselves staunch critics of the Icelandic fishery management system. There were few good words for the EU’s management and its CFP (common fisheries policy). The newly decided on RAC (regional advisory councils) may be a step in the right direction, if delegated powers.

Another issue was that of the flawed stock-assessment methodology, and the inertia of the official science that is overlooking important aspects of fishery ecology and of fishery-caused genetic changes in commercial groundfishes.


The Faeroese Prime Minister, Joannes Ejdersgaard who opened the conference, chaired by Torben Foss, a lawyer from Norway specialising in fishery business, said that his country’s management is tailor-made to its fishery, and is adapting to changing conditions. Nothing is stable – said Mr. Ejdersgaard - and fishery assessment is not an exact science.

Quotas or effort control. Prof. Rongvaldur Hannesson an economist from Norway said that quota systems promote optimum investment, while effort control – over-investment. Catch and fishing capacity should be limited simultaneously and excess fishermen sent to alternative occupations. Industry that has use rights can run the fishery without government intervention.

Gudbrandur Sigurdsson, an Icelandic business executive and another supporter of the quota system, said that fishing quotas acquired banking value, and trawling fleet was reduced from 120 to 70 bigger and more powerful vessels. The processing industry reduced its manpower from 10,000 to 5,000 – said Sigurdsson - and it cannot be held responsible for loss of jobs in rural areas.

The hailing of the quota systems was disputed by other presenters. Prof. Rasper J. Nielsen of Denmark said that the quota-based EU’s CFP was a total failure conservation-wise, politically and economically, and that a recent UK study revealed that effort control in mixed fisheries improves legitimacy. Nielsen prefers fleet capacity balanced with stock reproduction over quota systems.

Menakhem Ben-Yami, an Israeli fishery management advisor, said that management systems should be tailored to each separate fishery and that quotas may be suitable in some, but counter-productive in other fisheries. Managing fisheries on regional and, better, sub-regional basis is the right approach. Illicit practices result from illogical or non-equitable rules and erroneous underlying science.

Dr.Jonas Bjarnasson from Iceland said that fishery science hasn’t recognised the genetic deterioration in cod, haddock and in saith due to the traditional releasing of small fish and creaming off the large ones. Cod that used to mature at the age of 6 and 8 kg of weight is now maturing at the age of 4 and 2.5 kg of weight.

Hijati i Jakupsstovu, a Faeroese biologist, said that in the Faeroes all fishery indicators improved in correlation with primary production, hence good catches are not necessarily a result of management. Small spawning stock produces good year classes, and low recruitment period may return.

Jakupsstovu agreed: The Faeroese management, which comprises quotas for mackerel fishery, closed areas, limited access to the trawl and gillnet fisheries (through number of licences), and other effort limitations, considers natural factors. But he warned that in longlining lack of natural food might improve catches, with hungry fish eager to bit. Effort control is best for the Faeroes; one result being legality. In the words of Sveinur Tummasarson, a Faeroese political scientist, this legality stems from the fact that all stakeholders, who co-operate in managing the fishery, which is absolutely crucial to the Faeroes, are able to see beyond their interests and persuasions.

Doug Wilson, a sociologist from the USA said that decisions are made at a too high level, and that the decision-makers need (to use) information from (the fishery) below. Desirably, the management process should be transparent and decisions made on the lowest possible level. Unfortunately, communications between the levels are distorted by institutional excluding and bending of relevant information, scientific reporting and recommendations, while (government) institutions make the management look more effective than it actually is. Regional advisory councils may be too high up on the hierarchy scale on one hand, and restricted to strictly advisory position, on the other.

According to Ben-Yami, fisheries management can only manage people, and people are those who enjoy or suffer from its consequences. Its choice of measures determines how benefits from the fishery are distributed among the fishing industry, the fishing people and their communities, and it can shift such benefits from one sector to another, sometimes irreversibly. The steps the managers assume are a function of their political and economic persuasion. Management that wants sustainable coastal communities would control input (effort); if it prefers privatisation or quasi-privatisation of fish resources would go for TACs, & ITQs. Both strategies may achieve similar fish yields, but each at different social, political, and economic costs.

Economics. Pavel Salz, an economist based in Holland told the conference that a study of the European fisheries indicates that the number of fishing vessels has been decreasing, non-EU vessels are more productive, larger vessels are losing more money than the smaller ones, and crew share is independent on vessel size. There’s an influx of cheap, non-European labour into the fisheries, partly explained by shortage of manpower.

Oli Samro, a Faeroe economist based in Holland created a data base for economic analysis of countries’ fisheries. Among 3 countries analysed, Norway, Iceland and the Faeroes, Iceland’s fishery has the best economic performance, but is the most indebted, while the Faeroese one has the best return on investment. While Iceland and the Faeroes lost some of their profits since 2001-2002, Norway’s fishery has been in the red since 2001. Iceland economy is now more technology-oriented, so the share of fisheries in its exports decreased from 80% some decades ago to 50%, today.

Since North Atlantic producers cannot compete with low-cost producers, the fishery industry should follow Norway’s shipbuilding industry example and take up the high-cost (high quality) approach vs. low-cost opposition.

For Atli R. Bjoernsson, an Icelandic economist, big is beautiful. Fishing companies are too small; they grow slow and bear profits too low. They employ too few young, educated people. They must focus on profit, expansion and increased research. At the same time, their customer companies grow bigger. The 5 biggest in Europe have been increasing their market share from 16% in 1991 to (expected) 40% in 2005. Still, - said Bjoernsson - fish business’ turnover lags behind the general. The main factors that generate profits in the Icelandic fisheries are: consolidation, sustainability, access to capital, lower corporate taxes, and focus on profit. Quota ceiling, restrictions on cross-border business investments and policy decisions are roadblocks to further consolidation.