The challenges facing groundfish fishermen in Iceland can’t have escaped anyone familiar with the sector, according to Örn Pálsson, director of the National Association of Small Boat Owners (NASBO), who points out that fish prices have not been as low as they are today for years.
‘The crash in prices isn’t only due to the strengthening Icelandic króna, as there are other factors. The main reason for the massive drop in redfish prices is the closure of the Russian market. Redfish prices are a third of what they were four years ago. The price of catfish was also three times higher then and the trend for haddock and saithe prices is worrying,’ he said, adding that the cod situation is very grave.
‘In fishing and processing, everything possible has been done meet the market’s demands. Buyers have demanded that everything has to be eco-labelled, and that has been done. Buyers have demanded responsible, sustainable fisheries. That demand has been met,’ he commented.
‘So why don’t these entities pay a higher price?’ Örn Pálsson asked.
‘Meeting all these requirements has been an expensive exercise. Did we forget to factor this in, making it clear to fish buyers that they wouldn’t be getting all this for nothing? Didn’t they figure that fish prices would have to rise to meet all these costs? Something has gone wrong here.’
He said that fishermen need to follow a host of regulations, ensuring that no fish goes to waste and that everything that comes over the gunwale is landed – even fish with minimal value – knowing that infringing the regulations could mean losing their fishing licence.
‘And what’s it like on the other side of the industry? Do you need a licence to sell the fish? No. There’s no requirement for that. Anyone can offer fish for sale on overseas markets. I’m of the opinion that there’s work to be done here and the Minister of Fisheries needs to take the initiative and set up an examination of what can be done better. This is an important debate and I’d like sales and marketing organisations to pick up the ball here and come up with their opinions.’
He commented that with the exception of fuel, all costs are rising; transport, monitoring, fishing gear, repairs and maintenance, insurance, and not least of all, the anticipated increase in fishing levy costs. In addition, changes made in 2015 to levies that should have reduced the cost of quotas to make things easier for those with no large quotas in fact had the opposite effect.
‘Quotas prices went up and has made things hopeless for those people. This has resulted in even more consolidation and a less diverse industry,’ Örn Pálsson said.
‘Their position is now extremely difficult and it is imperative that the levy there should be reduced, which would also go some way towards levelling their situation against that of those who also run fish processing.’
‘Now we have boats tied up while the sea is full of cod. That has to change.’