A Warning from the Real Fishermen of Iceland

Back in the early 1980's, Newfoundland dorymen, the fishermen who put to sea in small boats, gave a clear warning to the Canadian and Newfoundland governments:

"Stop the draggers or lose the cod."

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society heeded that warning and joined the real fishermen of Newfoundland in warning about the impending collapse of the cod.

The inshore fishermen and the voices of conservation were ignored because the Federal and Provincial governments served the interests of the large fishing corporations and not the concerns of their traditional fishing communities.

In 1992, the great cod fishery of Newfoundland collapsed. In 1993, when Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd ship Cleveland Amory disrupted foreign dragging fleets on the Nose and the Tail of the Grand Banks, the Canadian government and the government of Newfoundland intervened to arrest Captain Watson. They put him on trial for disrupting foreign dragging operations that were exterminating the fish.

Captain Watson was acquitted, but still the government ignored the voice of conservation and continued the policies of incompetence and mismanagement that brought the cod fishery to a state of ruin.

We are now hearing the voices of warning from the traditional fishing communities of Iceland.

On July 11, 2003, Icelandic fisherman Gardar H. Bjorgvinsson wrote the following appeal to Icelanders and to international conservation organizations. He included the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society among the marine conservation groups to address.

Gardar H. Bjorgvinsson writes:

About two years ago, Jóhann Sigurjónsson, director of the Icelandic Marine Research Institute, told me that there was a 10-year timetable at the Institute to carry out research on the biota of Iceland's continental shelf in respect to fishing gear that is dragged. I have until now kept my friends and colleagues overseas up to date in what's happening in relation to how Icelanders practice fishing. As there is no sign that they are standing up to their promise of research on the dangers of drag trawl fishing gear, I am taking action to inform the international conservation community about Icelandic inaction.

We no longer see ourselves capable of doing nothing while looking at the biota within Iceland's fishing jurisdiction being permanently destroyed because of the shortsighted profit motives of a few boat owners.

The Reykjanes Ridge, south of Iceland and outside Iceland's jurisdiction, is also in danger because of the despoliation of Icelandic and foreign draggers.

Remember that all the fish in the sea are the food source of the nation and the Icelandic grounds are the most important fishing grounds of all the inhabitants on earth, so it is not just a private issue for Icelanders whether they are destroyed or not.

For instance, the Reykjanes ridge is a very important foundation for the whole biota in the North Atlantic Ocean. Thus, all conservationists should be roused to consciousness with this address from the Future of Iceland group.

Dear Icelanders, in a letter going to 22 nature conservation organizations and others I am pointing out that the total catch of Icelanders for the fishing year September 1, 2001, to September 1, 2002, was 2,162,312 tonnes, but only 92,294 tonnes were caught in a nature-friendly way, by hand gear and line.

These figures come directly from the Iceland Fisheries Directorate.

Most of the fish caught in Icelandic waters are taken by draggers and pelagic trawls.

We, small boat owners, that fish with handline and longline here in coastal waters of Iceland, are asking all nature conservation organizations for help against attacks of trawler owners, supported by government, that are methodically exterminating the small boat owners to get exclusive rights to all fishing and fishing grounds around Iceland, in complete contradiction to the Rio Accord of 1992.

Fishery conservation policy in Iceland is based on transferable quotas, between ships and between individuals and can be rented out or sold for big sums of money. A permanent quota is now sold for $10,000 per 1000 kg. of cod. Many lucky owners have amassed small fortunes this way and this has resulted in 70% of the nation wanting to change the system and another 20% wanting to scrap it altogether, according to a Gallup poll. General anger against this system is prevalent in the country where some people which were at the start at the right time and place were given these quotas and have since amassed such money and power that they now seem to control the doings of government. The strongest and most powerful of these is the Icelandic Trawler Owners Association. It is generally acknowledged that we are fast moving into a sort of feudal system with the general seaman and small boat owners as vassals to the seigneur, or overlord, as their boss.

Dear friends, nature conservationists all over the world, I am now asking you to help me save Iceland's continental shelf from permanent destruction and the fish stocks from total collapse. The marine biota around Iceland is in danger of extinction. Seals, whales, fish and the whole biota are in danger of extinction because of the greed of profiteering boat owners in Iceland. Pelagic trawls are finishing off the permanent destruction of capelin stock as well as that of herring, blue whiting, and shrimp and, in general, everything that the biota feeds on. I am not asking for financial assistance, only that you send me a letter that contains a declaration of support for the concerns of the Future of Iceland group in their battle to keep large factory ships with damaging trawls outside of 50 nautical miles of Iceland. I will then show the written letters of support to the Icelandic Government and request that this powerful fishing gear, which threatens the future of the earth's inhabitants as a whole, be reduced significantly so that the fishing grounds can become sustainable again, like they were around 1950 as at that time the marine biota was in balanced equilibrium.

Yours faithfully,

Gardar H. Bjorgvinsson The Future of Iceland Group

Herjolfsgata 18 220 Hafnarfjordur

Iceland Fax + 354 5174935


The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Supports a Future for Iceland.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sent a letter of support to the Future of Iceland Group. We need to help ecologically concerned Icelanders to work towards the elimination of drag trawling and control of national fisheries by a small group of fishing corporations intent upon realizing large short term profits for short term investment. If not, Iceland has Newfoundland as an example of what a combination of greed, mismanagement, vested interests and destructive technology will do.

Real Newfoundland fishermen were ignored, their warnings dismissed and the result was total economic and ecological disaster. Does the same fate await Iceland?