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A brief treatise on Iceland’s quota allocations

A friend on Facebook updated her status yesterday with the remark that, in her view, the upcoming elections revolve around the choice between EU and LÍU, not the different party lists.

So true!

LÍU is the acronym for Landssamband Íslenskra Útvegsmanna, or The Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Operators, an association for the interests of those who own and operate the largest fishing vessels in Iceland. One of the major issues for the upcoming elections concerns the fisheries management system which was implemented around 30 years ago in order to protect the fish stocks. Most people would agree that the system, as such, has proven its worth in terms of doing just that. However, the way it was implemented remains highly controversial.

The fisheries management system is based on the issuing of quotas for different types of fish that must be adhered to in any given fishing year. The quotas are arrived at through research conducted by the Marine Research Institute of Iceland, which uses modern technology to study the condition of different stocks. The system isn’t flawless, but so far at least it has managed to keep Iceland’s fish stocks from collapsing.

When the system was implemented nearly 30 years ago, a decision was made to allocate the quotas based on previous catch results. This effectively means that those who fished the most previously get the largest quota. Over the years, a handful of individuals have become incredibly wealthy based on the allocation of quotas. The fact that quota owners are allowed to transfer their quotas [i.e. sell them or rent them] has meant that quotas have in many cases been sold out of small villages around the country that were previously heavily dependent on fishing. With the quota gone, everything else collapses, such as fish processing and various service-related jobs, accounting for the debilitated state of many of those villages today.

This form of quota allocation has long been a heavy point of contention in Icelandic society and there is much anger that allocations from this common resource, i.e. Iceland’s fishing grounds, have served to make a few individuals fantastically rich. To add insult to injury, since the economic collapse it has transpired that many of these “quota kings” [as they are called in Icelandic] have mortgaged their quotas for massive loans on which they are at risk of defaulting — meaning that a large share of the unfished resource in the sea now effectively belongs to foreign creditors.

Last year, the UN’s Commission on Human Rights ruled that Iceland’s quota allocation system is unlawful because it is discriminatory. Yet the Independence Party, which if you’ve just joined us ruled this country for 18 years prior to the collapse of Iceland’s government in January, has resolutely refused to change the system despite widespread discontent.  They have clearly been protecting the interests of the fat cats, and it is almost a given that the quota kings have paid handsomely into the coffers of the IP in the past, in return for the IP keeping the system in place. Now that the IP is no longer in control, the demand for a recall of the quota back to the people is growing increasingly louder.

Just before parliament recessed last week, the two coalition parties – the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Greens – tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill that would allow for amendments to Iceland’s constitution aimed at, among other things, returning the quotas to the people for a more fair system of allocation. The bill was not passed because the Independence Party successfully employed the stalling strategy by holding endless speeches, blabbering about nothing, even reciting names for no good reason and singing little ditties in the podium [see Árni Johnsen employing his very best stalling strategy here]. Consequently time ran out to be able to get the bill through parliament.

[How the Independence Party is still getting around a 23 percent following in the polls is completely beyond me; I JUST DON’T GET IT.]

Meanwhile, the question of EU accession, while prominent before, has become an increasingly heated topic in the last few days. More on that later, however.

MISERABLE WEATHER OUT THERE
We’ve had torrential horizontal rain all morning, with gale-force winds. The rain has since slowed to a trickle, but the wind remains. Hoping it will change, am starting to suffer from cabin fever. Currently 6C [43F], the sun came up at 5:31 am and will go down at 9:23 pm.

Comments

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  • Grif April 22, 2009, 6:14 pm

    The previous 8 years I refused to go to the USA because of the president that was in power at that time, it took me some creativity to keep on coming up with excuses for work not having to go on business trips to the States. I hope I don’t have to do the same with Iceland 😛

    I’m curious for the results!

    Just wondering… does Iceland have extreme right/left parties?

  • idunn April 22, 2009, 6:16 pm

    Iceland seems one of the few nations wise enough to truly protect its fisheries, although the allotment of quotas could be more equable. Learning that some have ended in foreign hands make me cringe.

    I don’t know what to make of the EU, other than very much a double edged sword. Membership could bring some real benefits, also a lot of bureaucracy. Possibly also impair Iceland’s ability to protect her resources. Some articles I’ve read indicated that the EU would mandate quota amounts, and their record to date in enforcement, etc. within member states rather lamentable. Not sure either how membership would extend to best using and protecting rivers, geothermal sites and other resources.

    My hope that whatever the bargain struck, with fishermen or others, that it does not relinquish Iceland’s freedom and responsibility to best protect and nourish its land and people.

  • Roy April 22, 2009, 6:50 pm

    Voting for the Independence party is akin to those voting for George Bush for a second term! Get a grip folks…get a grip!

  • Ljósmynd DE April 22, 2009, 7:18 pm

    Thank you for this background information. I wasn’t aware that it has been 30 years since the fisheries management system was introduced. Apart from good effects of protecting the fish stocks, the allocation of public resources to the benefit of a select few seems to have a very longstanding tradition in Iceland.

    Aren’t there laws prohibiting the use of fishing quotas as collateral for loans from foreign creditors? In principle, at least, they should still be considered as public resource.

    I am curious about the proceedings concerning EU membership. This is certainly not an easy decision but there seems to be much distractive fear-mongering involved.

  • 9uy April 22, 2009, 8:58 pm

    Maybe way to persuade Icelanders to vote pro E.U, is to convince them that voting for pro E.U is like voting for Obama.

  • hildigunnur April 22, 2009, 9:06 pm

    Icelandic speakers here, take a look at this (no, not this time a shameless plug to my own site 😛 )

    But yes, it’s a pretty good analogy.

    I want the fish in Icelandic waters to be under Icelandic management but preferably with the nation, rather than some rich guys, don’t really care if the people that own the rights happen to have an Icelandic social security number or not, as long as they live and pay taxes (or not) in Cayman Islands.

    Grif, well no not really. VG, the party furthest to the left is pretty much socialdemocratic, much more than socialistic, the Frjálslyndir party who are the only ones that have shown signs of racism aren’t really all that far right in other aspects. And the Independence Party, well in some aspects they’re far right but in other ones definitely not.

  • Grif April 23, 2009, 10:53 am

    Hildigunnur, that’s pretty nice.

    I was wondering whether there were more parties that maybe didn’t make the voting limit (not sure on the English term for this).
    A country without extremist parties…maybe there is hope for humanity after all 😉

  • hildigunnur April 24, 2009, 6:33 pm

    hehe, I sure hope so… 😀