Iceland Mag

9 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Thanks to sustainable fisheries Iceland's cod stock now larger than at any time since 1985

By Staff

  • Trawlers in harbour In the 1980s Iceland adopted a quota system in the fisheries to manage fish stocks responsibly. Photo/GVA

The size of the Icelandic cod population continues to increase. The biomass of the cod stock is now larger than at any time since 1985, when the current systematic measurements began. Older fish is also larger and heavier than in previous measurements, a further indication the cod stock is doing well.

Result of sustainable fishing policy
The news of the strong showing of the Atlantic Cod population in Icelandic waters is welcome news, as many commercial fish stocks are in decline or are under severe stress world-wide. A strong cod population is also crucial for the Icelandic economy, as cod, which is a favorite ingredient for English Fish & Chips, is one of the most important export products of Iceland. 

The strong condition of the Icelandic cod population is the result of a sustainable fisheries policy, introduced in the 1980s. 

All commercial fish stocks doing well

Biomass of cod 1985-2017
Estimates of the distribution of cod 1985-2017 Kg per mile of trawling Photo/Marine Research Institute

According to the final report of measurements by the Icelandic Marine Institute (pdf) of the condition of several important commercial fish stocks, the biomass of the cod population is now greater than at any time since systematic measurement began in 1985. The population and its biomass have been rising each year since 2007. The distribution of cod in Icelandic waters was also greater than in previous measurements.

A major reason for the higher biomass of the population is that older fish, defined as 7 years and older (Atlantic cod lives to a maximum age of 25), is larger and heavier than in previous years.  

The population size of other key commercial fish species, including pollock and haddock, also show an increase over last year, or they are close to historic highs.

Recommendations of marine biologists have been heeded

Fishermen, workers
A sustainable industry The 1984 quota system has transformed the Icelandic fishing industry Photo/Eyþór

The recent recovery of the cod population in Icelandic waters is welcome news. The population plummeted in the post war years, like many other commercial fish stocks in the Atlantic, as fishing increased with larger and more powerful vessels. In response to this crisis Iceland introduced a a system of total allowable catch quotas in 1984. These were later made transferrable, allowing fisheries to trade their share of the total allowed catch. 

Although the system has remained controversial, due to the fact that the quota has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, it ha been successful in reducing fishing and strengthening the fish stocks.

While total quotas frequently exceeded the recommendations of marine biologists in the first years of the quota system, the recommendations of the Marine Research Institute have been taken more seriously in the more recent past. For the past eight years the Institute has issued particularly cautious recommendations in the hope of strengthening the breeding population of cod.

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