Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture has issued a regulation for the lumpfish fishery in 2020. The regulation allows for 25 days fishing for each licence, but thenumber of days will be re-evaluated based on advice from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. The advice is expected not later than April 1. The fishery can begin on March 10 and the maximum length of nets for each boat is unchanged from last year.
By-catch of marine mammals and seabirds a problem in the lumpfish fishery and is the main reason for the withdrawing of MSC certification for the fishery in in 2018. The main reason was substantial by-catch of seabirds as well as harbour seal and grey seal in the lumpfish net. Both seal species are on the list of threatened species.
By law set in 2019 (36/2019) the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture was granted right to decide on regulation framework for seal hunting, but no such law had been in place before. On the basis of the law, the Minister issued a regulation in December 2019 prohibiting all seal hunting as well as any marketing of seal products.
In order to react to the high by-catch of seabirds and seals in the lumpfish fishery as well as to enhance increase in the seal populations, several actions have been taken:
- In the autumn 2019, the Minister appointed a group of experts to advise on possible actions to reduce by-catch in the lumpfish fishery and how inspections can be improved.The group delivered a report in December and proposed several actions, including improved inspection by the Directorate of Fisheries, shortening the soak time of nets,improved reporting by fishermen as well as writing of a manual for species identification of possible by-catch A substantial increase in inspections coverage by the Directorate of Fisheries has already been decided as well as to follow other direct proposals from the expert group. In line with their suggestions, the maximum soak time for the nets is now 3 days instead of 4 in past years.
- The Directorate of Fisheries has prepared an app for cell phones or computers where position of vessels are automatically registered.Captain of the boat reports in a simple way catches of lumpfish, condition of catches as well as by-catch by species and numbers.It is hoped that these changes in the reporting requirements leads to improved reporting, including improved identification of by-catch. Furthermore, fishermen will receive a manual on how to identify birds and marine mammals that have shown to be caught in the fishery.
- The Association of Small Boat Owners presented proposals for the closure of 14 areas in Faxaflói, Breiðafjörður, Vestfirðir, Strandir, Húnaflói and Skagafjörður. In the main, the regulation on catches in 2020 are in accordance with these proposals, however, two of the areas were expanded, based on data from the Directorate of Fisheries, in order to protect seabirds in Faxaflói. Enclosed is picture showing the 14 areas that has been closed.
The regulation aims at reducing by-catch of seabirds and marine mammals in lumpfish fisheries and to attain agreed management goal for harbour seal in Iceland. The goal is that the harbour seal stock shall be around 12,000 animals, but according to the last count in 2018, the stock size was estimated around 9,500 animals.
The Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture hopes that the measures that are now put in place will reduce the by-catch of mammals and seabirds and, thus, will enhance the growth of these stocks. The Minister considers this regulation to mark an important step towards the protection of seal stocks around Iceland.