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The ITQ system

Management approach
Fisheries management in Icelandic waters is primarily based on catch limitation (output control) through individual transferable quotas (ITQs):

  • Each vessel is assigned a quota share (%) in each stock, initially based primarily on catch history over a reference period.
  • The annual allowable catch for each vessel from each stock is obtained by multiplying the TAC of the year and the vessel‘s quota share (as a proportion). 

Quotas can be transferred between vessels; this applies both to quota shares and annual catch allotments. Quota transfer is mainly intended to promote rationalisation and thus increase profitability in the industry.

Exceptions include: Community quotas (not based on vessels‘s quota share, all other provisions apply; limited amount); summer inshore handline (jigging) fishery limited to 6000 tons mixed demersal catch.

Supplementary measures
Discarding of commercial species is prohibited by law. Extensive area closures to fishing for the protection of juvenile fish:

  • Large nursery areas closed on long term basis
  • Temporary real time closures

Fishing gear selectivity in demersal fisheries ensured through requirements for minimum mesh size and/or the use of sorting grids to allow small fish to escape capture.

Closure to fishing of main spawning grounds for the major demersal fish stocks during peak spawning season.

Flexibility
In order to facilitate matching of the species composition of the catch and the quota portfolio for individual fishing vessels or companies, and also to reduce incentives for discard, a variety of flexibility provisions are in place.  The main provisions, in addition to quota transfer, are the following:

  • A provision allowing the use of catch quota for one species to count against a limited catch amount of another species.
  • Auctioned catch; it is permitted to land a small fraction of the year‘s catches without use of quota; such catches go to auction and the proceeds go to a public fund for supporting research.
  • It is permitted for the year‘s catch to exceed the year‘s quota by 5% in some species; the excess is then deducted from the following year‘s quota.
  • It is permitted to postpone fishing for part of the quota and to transfer up to a certain percentage of the year‘s quota to the following fishing year; postponement of fishing in considered beneficial to the growth of long-lived fish stocks.
  • Catches of undersized fish in some cases (e.g. cod <50 cm) count only as half their weight against quota; this is to discourage discards; the actual amounts are small.

Implementation
A central fishing vessel registry is maintained; only registered vessels that have been granted a fishing licence may engage in commercial fishing.

Before embarking on a fishing trip, the vessel‘s operators must ensure that the vessel has quota registered which suffices for the expected catch.

Recording of vessel catch quotas and catches is done in the Fisheries Directorate‘s central data base which is accessible to all; thus transparency is ensured.

  • All catches shall be landed in officially designated landing harbours.
  • Accredited harbour officials weigh the catch by species and record in the central data base.
  • Landed catch is subtracted from the vessel‘s quota.

When quota is used up, the vessel owner must acquire additional quota for the vessel, else fishing must stop; failing that, the vessel loses its fishing licence.

The Directorate of Fisheries and The Icelandic Coast Guard monitor and control commercial fishing and the landing of catches. 

Stocks, advice and decisions
Most stocks are confined to Icelandic waters although some are straddling stocks. The Marine Research Institute (MRI) conducts systematic research on the distribution, size and yield potential of the main species stocks.

The MRI provides scientific advice on the total allowable catch (TAC) for each year (or fishing year, Sept.-Aug) with the objective of promoting sustainable use; The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) also provides advice on many stocks.

The minister for fisheries and agriculture decides on the TAC for each species stock based on scientific advice.


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