In the aftermath of the widespread dissatisfaction in Iceland over the Samherji affair in Namibia, in which the Icelandic company stands accused of paying bribes for access to quotas and a number of prominent figures in Namibia are awaiting trial, the question of ownership of the fishing industry in Iceland has again been in the spotlight.
Large portions of Iceland’s fishing industry are owned by a relatively small number of companies, many of them with close links. There is a ceiling to how much a single entity can hold, with a single entity limited to a maximum of 12% of the overall quota, but there is also a level of cross-ownership and definitions of what can be termed linked entities are now under examination.
Fisheries Minister Kristján Thór Júlíusson has presented the suggestions put forward by a working group that has examined options for improved monitoring of marine resources, including definitions of what could constitute links between entities.
The proposals are for the definition of linked entities to extend to spouses and children, and for certain management connections between companies to be assumed to constitute links unless this can be shown to not be the case. One proposal is for a clear definition to be made of what constitutes a genuine controlling interest.
Entities holding more than 6% of the overall quota or 2.5% of the coastal hook fishery quota would be required to inform the Directorate of Fisheries of merger or acquisitions of quota holdings, with the Directorate able to veto such mergers or acquisitions. It is also proposed that the Directorate of Fisheries should be given greater powers to gather information.
‘According to the Icelandic National Audit Office’s report on the Directorate of Fisheries, attempts by Directorate staff to define “linked entities” and “genuine controlling interest” in fisheries legislation go back more than a decade. We can all see that this situation cannot be allowed to continue,’ Kristján Thór Júlíusson said.
‘The proposals now in front of us are designed to provide definitions of these concepts and to support more effective monitoring the status of maximum quota holdings. The working group I appointed in March last year has reached a unanimous position on this complex issue, and this gives us hope that the proposals could be the basis of improvements.’
The working group was appointed last year, and in November the Minister requested that it should widen its brief to include examination of linked entities, with a conclusion to be delivered by 1st January. To support the working group, the Minister also established an advisory group including members of each Parliamentary party, institutions and key industry bodies.