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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 16:52 GMT
Iceland's cod prove elusive
Trawler at quayside   Alex Kirby
Reykjavik harbour: Iceland acknowledges past mistakes

"We've made mistakes here," says Gudyon Kristjonsson, a member of Iceland's Parliament and former trawler skipper.

"A single boat used to catch 3-4,000 tonnes a year when I was going to sea.

"The catches aren't as good now, because there aren't as many cod left.

"It's partly because of over-fishing, partly the fault of our quota system - and there've been other mistakes, too."

Mr Kristjonsson, who first went to sea as a 14-year-old deckhand and skippered his own boat for 25 years, was speaking to BBC News Online in his office near the harbour here.

"We'd fish mainly for cod, haddock and saithe," he said. "I worked in home waters, with a few trips latterly to the Barents Sea.

Size not everything

"At one time the Icelandic fleet was over-fishing. But I think the real problem is our transferable quota system, which lets skippers buy and sell their allocated catch limits.

"It means the big companies are getting bigger all the time, and the smaller ones are disappearing. Ten companies now control half the quotas.

Fisherman holds cod   Alex Kirby
Iceland's crews are finding fewer fish
"What we ought to do is split the available catch four ways, between the really big trawlers, those working for the fresh fish trade, the coastal vessels, and the smallest boats.

"When companies buy the quotas they buy people's jobs, and the coastal villages are destroyed."

Asked how far the total catch was decided by politicians, Mr Kristjonsson replied: "The politicians follow the advice of the scientists at the Fisheries Research Institute here.

"They've been doing that for the last six or eight years. But it's changed nothing.

"We're catching a lot of the fish the cod feed on - species like capelin, herring and blue whiting.

"And we have a lot of whales in Icelandic waters, eating the fish the cod hunt. So we want to start whaling again."

Self-inflicted injury

In the glare of the harbour lights three fishermen were unloading their catch in the winter dusk. One told BBC News Online: "The fishing's not what it used to be.

"I've been at sea for 13 years, and I'll probably give it up soon. I wouldn't want any son of mine doing it.

Cod on trawler deck   BBC
Overfishing took too many cod
"And we've got only ourselves to blame - we've been catching too much."

Elfar Adalsteinsson heads the fish freezing factory in Eskifjordur, in eastern Iceland.

He told BBC News Online: "The fish that live close to the surface, like the capelin and herring, are in pretty good shape.

Listen to the experts

"But we've had problems with the cod. In the 1970s, when we fought the 'cod wars' to keep control of our own fish, Iceland was catching about 350,000 tonnes a year, but now it's a little under 200,000, though there are signs of recovery.

"We try to make sure the catch is set as scientifically as possible. A few years back, when we went beyond the scientists' advice, we had the same problems as the European Union has now, although we weren't letting anyone else share our cod and haddock.

"You have to listen to the scientists. If you don't, you won't have any fish to catch.

"There's a risk to the industry in doing that, it's Catch 22. But you have to look at the big picture.

"In the long run, healthy fish stocks are the only foundation for a healthy industry."

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