Case study: Community-Based Fisheries Management in Kiribati (on-going)

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

“Fishermen catches have once declined nearshore before the arrival of CBFM in 2014. The creation of management plans brought in positive impacts to our marine resources and fishermen are getting more catches now than before.”

– Biita Ioane, Kuma fisherman from Butaritari

Summary

The coastal fisheries of Kiribati are typically artisanal and local. Rapid population growth has increased pressure on these resources, as evidenced by declines in abundance of target species such as goatfish, clams and bonefish.

In 2013, the Government of Kiribati made Community Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) a short-term priority strategic action in its National Fisheries Policy. This was followed, in 2014, by a three-year pilot project on CBFM focusing on two islands, North Tarawa and Butaritari, as a partnership between the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development of Kiribati (MFMRD), the University of Wollongong (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security– ANCORS) and the Pacific Community (SPC), with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). There were four phases to the work: scoping threats and opportunities, identifying stakeholders and how they wished to manage their fishery, developing management plans, and monitoring and evaluation.

Five communities took part in the pilot project; over the three years, all of them produced CBFM plans. These are supported by the Island Council and elders association promoting measures such as banning the use of destructive fishing gears and practices. Legal backing is planned under the recently agreed Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Coastal Marine Resources) Regulations 2019.

Data-gathering through community meetings has improved knowledge across different stakeholder groups of fisheries resources and their sustainable exploitation. This work has been supported with training for community members and MFMRD staff by the project team. Community leaders have also been given a valuable sense of empowerment as part of the management cycle.

As knowledge and understanding of the CBFM approach and its benefits has spread, well over 40 communities across 11 islands of Kiribati are currently working in this way. At the national level, the project has created momentum within MFMRD to use and incorporate CBFM principles.

Community meeting to discuss CBFM in Butaritari in 2014

The issue

Fishing contributes significantly to the economy, food security and employment in Kiribati and, in the long term, relies on the sustainability of fish stocks. The coastal fisheries of the country are typically artisanal, targeting finfish, bivalves, cephalopods and gastropods, and are mostly carried out at a household level for subsistence consumption. There is some trade through the main markets in urban areas and via individual stalls along the roadside.

Rapid population growth (increased requirements for food) and development of a cash economy (the need to sell catches to fund other purchases) was placing increasing pressure on local resources through overharvesting and increases in fishing capacity.

When combined with some destructive fishing methods, pollution and habitat damage, target species important for the coastal fisheries, such as goatfish, clams, bonefish, red snapper and octopus, were in decline.

The response

In 2013, the Government of Kiribati made Community Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) a short-term priority strategic action in its National Fisheries Policy. In 2014, as part of a larger project that operated across three countries (Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu), work started on piloting CBFM in five communities on the islands of North Tarawa and Butaritari. These were places where community members shared many of the same resource use issues and concerns. The three-year pilot project was carried out to develop community-based fisheries management plans.

After the Government made the CBFM project, a new Fisheries Regulation for – Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Marine Resources) Regulation 2019 was developed and endorsed in 2019. CBFM was recognised under this new regulation given the provision subject to Part II. The regulation empowers the management plan under the CBFM given the authorised officers are able to enforce the management measures under the management plan. An important objective was capacity-building, and therefore working with communities to understand how they could be involved in ensuring the sustainable management of their fisheries.

There were four phases to the work: scoping threats and opportunities, identifying stakeholders and how they wished to manage their fishery, developing management plans, and finally monitoring and evaluation. Five pilot communities were initially suggested by Island Councils and interest in participating in the project was confirmed by the local communities in these areas. Sixteen community engagement activities were held in Tarawa and Butaritari, over the 3-year period with different objectives at different stages.

Initially the objectives were to introduce the project and enable community members to talk about their potential involvement in it, to define priorities for a model of CBFM in Kiribati and to collect relevant data. CBFM plans were drafted in the second year and meetings were held on enforcement and implementation in the final year. The project was promoted to the wider Kiribati community during Fisheries Awareness Weeks, when activities and achievements were showcased.

Training sessions on data collection were organised for community members and MFMRD staff by the project team at various stages. There was also training for Fisheries Extension Officers in CBFM engagement approaches throughout the project and MFMRD is currently working on a manual specifically for Kiribati on CBFM.

 

Partnerships and support

The CBFM project started in May 2014, as a threeyear partnership between the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development of Kiribati (MFMRD), the University of Wollongong (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security – ANCORS) and the Pacific Community (SPC), the project was later renewed for another four years. The funding for this work has been supported by the Australian Government through ACIAR projects FIS/2012/074 and FIS/2016/300. In the first phase, staff from MFMRD and ANCORS identified and evaluated the social, economic, environmental, and governance context, while they focused on establishing a strong enabling environment, scaling CBFM to more communities and monitoring, evaluating and learning during the second phase.

The development of the pilot CBFM plans was a collaborative process, with participation and actions undertaken at a local level as well as with the involvement of Island Councils and national agencies – principally MFMRD but also the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA).

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

All five pilot communities established CBFM committees as the voice of the programme in their villages. Butaritari has also established an island-wide CBFM committee. All five have developed community based fisheries management plans. Common elements include banning destructive fishing gear and practices, including prohibiting; the use of small-size nets and excessively long gillnets, encircling corals with gillnets, destroying corals to reach fish or octopus, fishing on spawning aggregations and the catching of juvenile fish. All five plans also recommended establishing a marine reserve, with Bikati the first community to establish a communityled marine protected area.

With the involvement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, MFMRD and the Attorney General’s Office there has been clarification and guidance on how Island Councils can introduce local bylaws for coastal fisheries management (out to 3 nautical miles) under the Local Government Act 1984. By 2017, four communities had taken steps towards drafting a bylaw to formalise their CBFM plans. Legal backing for CBFM plans is now intended, using provisions of the recently agreed Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Coastal Marine Resources) Regulations 2019. This sets out a consultation process and lists the key elements required by such plans, such as specifying the conservation and management measures to achieve stated objectives, a programme for implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and arrangements for surveillance and enforcement.

Data-gathering through community meetings has improved knowledge across different stakeholder groups on fisheries resources and their sustainable exploitation. This was done using matrices to capture information on aspects such as fish catches, who fishes, seasonality of catches and perceived status and conditions of the stocks. The process was also very successful at involving and motivating community members, especially in the case of ‘participatory mapping’, where community members were encouraged to draw maps, identify fishing
grounds, spawning aggregation sites and other elements of the marine ecosystem.

As knowledge and understanding of the CBFM approach and its benefits has spread, other communities and islands of Kiribati expressed an interest in developing similar management plans for their local areas. In 2016, through a follow-on project, CBFM approaches were extended to Maiana, Abemama and Nonouti Islands and in 2017 the Island Councils of Abaiang and Marakei requested formal assistance from MFMRD to help develop community fisheries management plans. A second phase of CBFM has added islands such as Aranuka, Marakei and North Tabiteuea.

A combination of existing CBFM resources, training on facilitation skills and applied fieldwork with trained CBFM officers was found to be a very effective method to reach out to more officers within MFMRD and, through them, to disseminate the principles of the project to a growing number of staff. At the national level, the project has created momentum within the National Coastal Fisheries Division of MFMRD, to incorporate CBFM principles such as facilitation rather than presentations into their work.

Challenges

A challenge identified by community members was that, unless formal legal recognition is created to honour CBFM efforts, any village-level management plan will be unsuccessful owing to a lack of effective compliance and
enforcement mechanisms.

A related issue was that considerable confusion existed across government, Island Councils and community stakeholders about the process involved in creating and applying fisheries bylaws. These were important tools for CBFM as they enabled local communities to push for statutory backing to underpin their CBFM plans; however, they have since been superseded by the new Fisheries Regulations 2019, which make provisions for entire CBFM plans to be incorporated into law.

Another challenge lies in sustaining lines of outreach, communication and action beyond one or two key individuals. There is a need to make sure that community and government officers remain aware of their options as leadership and staff changes. The roles of community leaders in the management cycle also need to be clarified, perhaps through a new and more formal process of engagement between MFMRD, MIA and Island Councils.

Key lessons learnt

Continuous positive stakeholder engagement and participatory problem-solving are required, given that sharing management responsibility with communities is on-going and complex because so many parties, with a wide variety of views, need to be engaged. The acceptance and long-term enforcement of communitydriven resource management decisions require strengthened connections and support within and between villages, as well as across levels of government and regulation.

To achieve the best results, there was a need for bylaws to underpin CBFM plans, so as to legitimise local authority over fisheries management and enable effective enforcement. In the longer term, if CBFM were recognised in national regulations, this would not only enshrine this approach in the law but also give community leaders a valuable sense of empowerment as part of the management cycle. This has since happened with the new Fisheries Regulations 2019.

The implementation process has highlighted the importance of establishing clear protocols for community engagement with relevant key institutions (national, subnational and village) to ensure transparency. Relevant institutions should know about project objectives, progress and timing of visits to communities. Clear communication between different institutions is also key to avoid misunderstandings or misconceptions about CBFM.

The inclusion of institutions other than those directly in charge of fisheries management, such as MIA and the Environment and Conservation Division of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, has served to strengthen institutional links and broaden government support for the CBFM process in the long term.

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

Maldives to co-champion action on coastal fisheries for Commonwealth

Maldives has stepped forward to co-champion the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on sustainable coastal fisheries alongside the current champion country, Kiribati.

The country made the announcement at a virtual seminar, hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

As a new co-champion, Maldives will work with Kiribati, as well as the other members of the action group, to develop strategies on the sustainable use of coastal marine resources across the Commonwealth, covering a third of the world’s national waters.

Resilient fisheries

Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s fisheries have been fully exploited, depleted, or are in a state of collapse, signalling a threat to food security, fishing-dependent livelihoods and marine ecosystem.

Research has found that if the world’s fisheries were sustainably managed, they could provide six times more food than current levels while creating more than 12 million new jobs.

Against this backdrop, the purpose is to ramp up coordinated action and advocacy for a resilient coastal fisheries industry, which benefits both the present and future generations in the face of threats like climate change and overfishing.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “We are delighted that Maldives, a large ocean state, will co-champion our Action Group on sustainable governance of fisheries, which has long been the bedrock of the Maldivian economy.

“Their announcement signifies Maldives’ strong commitment to modernising the fisheries sector in a smart, sustainable and responsible way, which works for the people, economy and the ocean.

“This is the primary mandate of our Commonwealth Blue Charter, which brings together our member countries to co-operate and collaborate on national strategies to address shared issues affecting the health and sustainable use of our ocean, while building a global momentum for more ambitious ocean action.”

Ocean sustainability

The fisheries industry is of particular significance for the Commonwealth, particularly for its 24 small island states, including Maldives, which depend heavily on the ocean for sustenance.

Maldives’ Minister of State for Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture Hassan Rasheed said: “As the Commonwealth’s newest member, we remain steadfast in our shared goal of securing the ocean bounty for future generations.

“Fisheries are an integral part of Maldivian identity. The work being done under the Blue Charter is critical, especially for countries like ours, which is extremely dependent on the ocean for fisheries, food security, employment and foreign income.

“We are proud to co-champion the Action Group on sustainable coastal fisheries and take part in an endeavour that contributes towards ocean sustainability at a global level.”

The Blue Charter was agreed by Commonwealth heads of government in April 2018, as a vehicle to drive active co-operation on ocean governance and sustainability.

As of January 2021, 15 countries have stepped forward as ‘champions’ of 10 action groups, each focusing on a different ocean issue, from marine pollution to climate change. Forty-four countries have joined one or more of the 10 action groups.

Common benefits for all

Kiribati’s Secretary for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development, Dr Agnes Yeeting said: “As a champion, Kiribati looks forward to working with interested members to ensure all activities are supported to address issues encountered by coastal fisheries for a common benefit of all.

“Kiribati cannot progress on sustainable coastal fisheries alone but counts on collaborative efforts from members. Therefore, Kiribati is delighted to have Maldives on board for this common goal.”

The Action Group on Sustainable Coastal Fisheries encourages better stewardship of coastal marine resources through sharing of best practices, promoting sustainable management, and mobilising funding for joint initiatives to develop improved fisheries solutions.

Lyme Bay Fisheries & Conservation Reserve, UK (on-going)

 The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

“The collaborative model has proved that not only can sustainable fishing co-exist with conservation,

but, indeed, that low-impact fishers can often be the most effective conservationists.”

– Tim Glover, Blue Marine Foundation’s UK Projects Adviser, who set up the project

Summary

Lyme Bay, on the south coast of England, is a biodiversity hotspot that supports an important inshore fishery, most especially for shellfish lobster, crab and scallop). It is also a significant area for conservation, containing important reef habitats that support a number of rare and threatened marine species. Following conflict between mobile gear fishers (primarily scallop dredgers) and static gear fishers (potting for lobsters and crabs) over access, and evidence of damage to some of its nature conservation importance, 206 km2 of Lyme Bay was permanently closed to mobile demersal fishing gear. A series of voluntary best practice management measures that the fishers could sign up to and also benefit from were agreed.

There is a Memorandum of Understanding to promote and implement best practice in fisheries and conservation management, and a voluntary Code of Conduct, which includes fitting of an Inshore Vessel Monitoring System and caps on the volume of fishing gear deployed by vessels within the reserve. A Code of Conduct for recreational fishers has also been agreed. The measures introduced have not only reduced further damage but also enabled seabed habitats to recover as well as supporting increased catches of shellfish. Studies show that the well-being and livelihoods of fishers directly involved in the project has also improved.

The issue

Lyme Bay is an open, relatively shallow bay on the south coast of Devon that has long been known as a marine biodiversity hotspot. The seabed is a mosaic of rocky and stony reefs overlaid in places with a thin layer of mud, sand or gravel. The reefs support many species, including nationally important seafans and solitary hard corals, as well as soft corals, and abundant fish and shellfish populations.

Fishers towing demersal fishing gear (otter trawls, beam trawls and scallop dredges) typically fished on the mixed sediment areas, and static gear fishers used pots on rocky areas to catch crab and lobster. Following the development of spring-loaded “rock-hopper” gear and in response to a lucrative market, scallop dredgers also started to fish across the rocky areas and reefs in the 1990s and early 2000s. This led to conflicts between the different groups of fishers, conservationists and SCUBA divers. The main issue raised was physical damage to the reef features and their associated marine life, but also some loss of static fishing gear. Regulators needed to address the multi-use nature of the area alongside conservation priorities.

The response

In 2001, the main interested parties (fishers, conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and a local fish producer organisation) agreed on two voluntary closed areas but this arrangement broke down after various factors, such as rising fuel costs and higher prices for scallops, contributed to more boats fishing in the area.

A statutory approach was taken in 2006 and expanded in 2008, with legislation passed to close a significant part of the bay, over the reef habitats, to mobile demersal gears.(1) This replaced the former voluntary closures covering a similar area. Further obligations came in 2011 when Lyme Bay and Torbay became a candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats and Species Directive; the site was formally designated a SAC in 2017.(2)

Vessels in Beer
Vessels in Beer, James Bowden Photos

A consequence of the ban on the use of any mobile demersal gears was a significant increase in the use of static gear by fishers. This led to a new conflict over whether the increased level of potting, an activity requiring a permit but with no limit on the number of vessels that can apply for permits, was compatible with achieving the nature conservation objectives of the protected area. A Lyme Bay Working Group was set up in 2011 by a conservation NGO, the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), to address this question, and to develop a series of voluntary best practice management measures that the fishers could sign up to and also benefit from, in what became known as the Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve. This encompasses the Lyme Bay and Torbay SAC.

BLUE established the Lyme Bay Consultative Committee bringing together the stakeholders, set up working groups and provided momentum for the development of management measures.

A Memorandum of Understanding was agreed to promote and implement best practice in fisheries and conservation management and a voluntary Code of Conduct was developed, which includes fitting of an Inshore Vessel Monitoring System (real-time monitoring)(3) and caps on the volume of fishing gear deployed by vessels within the Reserve. A Code of Conduct for recreational fishers has also been agreed.

Voluntary marine reserves have a long history in
the UK. The first was set up around the island of
Lundy (Devon) in 1973, in response to concern
that there was no legal protection for this area of
marine nature conservation importance. These
sorts of reserves were typically supported by a
consultative/management group that agreed
on voluntary measures such as defining areas
where extractive activities such as commercial
and recreational fishing and collection of
marine curios should be prohibited. They were
innovative in having a more collaborative and
inclusive approach, an idea that is now standard
practice in statutory marine protected areas.
The main challenge has always been getting
support and acceptance by groups that may be
negatively affected, such as those involved in
excluded types of fishing. Consequently, while
such areas have laid much of the groundwork for
protection, formalising some of the agreements,
for example through local bylaws, provides
clarity and certainty for all concerned.

A “Reserve Seafood” brand has been established to promote and guarantee all the criteria that define the provenance of assured fish and the sustainable small scale inshore fishers who catch them. Together with provision of on-site facilities designed to optimise freshness and condition at the market, such produce can be sold at a premium.

Other activities include the development of new markets and branding, investment in post-harvest icing infrastructure and knowledge-sharing and training, including a school outreach programme working with fishing ambassadors to engage young people and local communities.

Partnerships and support

The Lyme Bay Consultative Committee is chaired by BLUE. Most of its members are local fishers; there are also representatives of the Devon & Severn and the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, the Marine Management Organisation, Natural England, Dorset County Council, Devon County Council and the Sea Angling Trust, as well as scientists from Plymouth University. Other organisations (e.g. fish merchants and agents, charities) provide advice and expertise. The Memorandum of Understanding and the voluntary Code of Conduct is supported by fishers that use a wide range of different gears, as well as by regulators and BLUE.

Monitoring of fish stocks and the reefs is carried out by scientists from the University of Plymouth in partnership with fishers and the Devon & Severn and the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities.

Seed funding of around £60,000 was provided by Marks & Spencer through BLUE. These and other partners from the private sector continue to provide some financial support, as do the UK government and the EU.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The measures introduced achieved the project’s objectives of preventing further damage to the reef habitats and indeed enabling some recovery, at the same time as resolving conflicts between the two types of fishers and promoting sustainable, premium quality, provenance-assured seafood from Lyme Bay.

In addition, over the period 2008-2016, there was a four-fold increase in the number of reef species, and, between 2013 and 2017, a doubling of scallop landings, a quadrupling of juvenile lobsters and 250 per cent increase in landings of brown crabs.

The well-being and livelihoods of fishers directly involved in the project have also improved. For example, measures such as installing chiller units in ports to maintain fresh catches and the development of Reserve Seafood to sell sustainably sourced fish and shellfish at a premium have both been very successful and popular with the local fishers involved. Job and income satisfaction of fishers involved with the Reserve activities has been high, and has gradually increased, showing that there have been both environmental and socioeconomic improvements.

The approach taken at Lyme Bay is being explored as a model for sustainable coastal fisheries management in other parts of the UK and elsewhere. In 2019, the BLUE project brought together artisanal fishers from Europe and Lyme fishers to exchange knowledge, skills and stories and discuss the future of low-impact, sustainable fishing. Feedback from Lyme fishers was extremely positive, with some asking to take part in further exchanges.

Axmouth fisherman
Axmouth fisherman, James Bowden Photos

Challenges

The main challenges centre around engaging and building trust with stakeholders, especially those whose livelihoods are affected by the management measures. For example, not all fishers have signed the Memorandum of Understanding, particularly those who operate large boats or towed gears that are prohibited in the Reserve and therefore see no direct benefits. The approach taken is to keep communication open, offer to create a code for larger vessels and find projects that may be mutually advantageous.

The status of the management measures, as they currently stand, also presents a challenge. The Code of Conduct, which limits pots and nets to agreed levels, is voluntary; it is supported by and largely adhered to by local boats but is not enshrined in law. Consequently, there is no constraint on vessels that choose to ignore it. This has been a particular concern because of interest from fishers from further afield who are attracted to fish in the area because of its improving stocks, even if they cannot market their fish under the Reserve Seafood brand. A related issue is that, while there are voluntary agreed limits on the number of pots that can be deployed, there is no limit on the number of vessels that operate in the Reserve.

Continuity and ensuring that the collaboration between fishers, conservationists, scientists and regulators can carry on in the long term are also challenges. One aspect of this relates to financing the management, projects and initiatives that stakeholders wish to undertake. Seed funding started the process, and a variety of partners and stakeholders make financial contributions, but it is not self-financing.

Key lessons learnt

A voluntary approach to managing sustainable fisheries can be used to bring people together and find solutions that are good for fisheries and the environment. However, in the longer term, statutory backing for agreed measures is key to ensuring compliance and clarity. This is being advocated by the Consultative Committee and has widespread support, but has still to be taken forward by the regulators (the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities).

The marine protected area and conflicts around it over fisheries management brought things to a head but at the same time created the momentum for change. The principles and approach taken in Lyme Bay, such as the active involvement of stakeholders, the support of regulators and government agencies, financial support, promotion and education, can be applied in other locations, both within and outside areas of nature conservation importance.

Careful consideration needs to be given to the approach and level of financing to support such initiatives. Funding needs to be sufficient to make it work but at a level where partners have buy-in, and where there is a view to make it self-financing in the future.

If the work of the Lyme Bay Consultative Committee is to continue in the long term both locally and as a model for elsewhere, it is important to ensure that the lessons learnt are acted on, and that the stakeholders themselves become advocates for the approach.

Lead contact

David Tudor, Blue Marine Foundation

Notes

  1. The Lyme Bay Designated Area (Fishing Restrictions) Order 2008
  2. Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017
  3. This is a remote tracking system using mobile phone networks
    rather than global satellite links, typically used to monitor
    artisanal or smaller fishing vessels under 12 m working close to
    the coast.

 

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

Individual Transferable Quotas for Cod Fisheries, Iceland (on-going)

 The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

“Iceland is one of the largest fisheries nations in the North Atlantic and is proud of its reputation in sustainable fisheries. I am therefore happy to announce that we will continue to contribute to responsible fisheries, following the advice of scientists to the fullest in our total catch decisions. For the future we need to further strengthen research and make sure we have the best possible information at each point in time to base reliable decisions on.” – Icelandic Minister of Fisheries Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, 2014

Summary

The fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy. Cod makes up the largest proportion of the catch of coastal vessels and is currently the second most important species in terms of weight landed and the most important on average in terms of volume. Following concern about increasingly unsustainable exploitation, a comprehensive statutory system of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) was introduced in 1990, giving fishers permanent quota shares as an incentive to take a long-term view on the harvesting and management of the resources. Species-specific total allowable catches are set by the regulator and a proportion (quota) allocated to individual fishers or fishing companies based on fishing experience (grandfather rights). In 2009, a licensed coastal fishery system was introduced for hand-lining and longlining (mainly cod) in the summer months, to try and ease access for new entrants.

The ITQ system works alongside other management measures such as the closure of spawning grounds as well as restrictions on gear types. The ITQ reform process was driven primarily by scientists, politicians and public servants. On-going stock assessment surveys are conducted in close cooperation with the fishing industry.

The economic performance of the fishing industry has improved since the quota system and other supporting measures were introduced. However, it has led the coastal fisheries sector to consolidate, making it difficult for new fishers to enter because of the cost of purchasing a licence.

Icelandic cod are currently certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and included in the Food and Agriculture Organization-based Iceland Responsible Fisheries Management Certification Programme.

The issue

Fishing in Iceland expanded considerably after World War II following a significant increase in the size of the fleet and technological advances.

Increasingly unsustainable exploitation became a serious problem and this continued to be a concern despite the introduction of various restrictions, such as limitations on the number of days at sea and on the type of gear used, as well as setting total allowable catches (TACs). Subsides for scrapping fishing vessels and restrictions on access by foreign fleets were also introduced but, despite these, fisheries continued to suffer from overexploitation. The need for urgent reform was highlighted by Iceland’s Marine Resource Institute in the 1970s and 1980s.

The fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy. At the present time, cod makes up the largest proportion of the catch of coastal vessels and it is the third most important species in terms of weight landed.

The response

A comprehensive statutory system of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) was introduced in 1990, giving fishers permanent quota shares as an incentive to take a long-term view on the harvesting and management of the resources. The Fisheries Act 1990 describes the objectives as “preservation and efficient use of resources to lay the foundation for long-term employment and settlement in the country”.

Species-specific TACs are set on an annual basis by the regulator and a proportion (quota) is allocated to individual fishers or fishing companies based on fishing experience (grandfather rights). Quota shares can be leased or sold on, for example if vessels opt to leave the industry.

The smallest (coastal) boats were originally exempt, to conserve employment in rural villages, but, after attempts to reduce the effort of these vessels failed, they were also required to enter the ITQ system. In 2009, a licensed coastal fishery system was introduced for hand-lining and longlining (mainly cod), with around 10 per cent of the quota reserved for coastal fisheries to try and safeguard this fishery and ease access for new entrants.

There are four defined coastal fishing zones, and fishers apply to fish in one of these zones in four-monthly blocks (three fishing periods each year). Once allocation has occurred, fishing is open access, with fishers competing to catch as much fish as quickly as possible but under certain conditions. There is a 650 kg/day landing limit, with penalties for overfishing and restrictions on permitted days at sea as well as on hours of fishing each day.

The ITQ system works alongside other management measures such as the closure of spawning grounds and areas to protect juvenile fish, as well as restrictions on gear types for certain time periods and fishing grounds.

Partnerships and support

The ITQ reform process was primarily driven by scientists, politicians and public servants with limited initial stakeholder involvement, as the government was keen to address what was seen as an urgent threat to an economically important industry.

Stock assessment surveys are conducted by the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, which works in close cooperation with the fishing industry and other stakeholders. Formal committees and focus groups have been established to enhance understanding, trust and quality of marine research.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Fishing effort has reduced drastically and fishing pressure on cod in Icelandic fishing grounds has declined; in 2019, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea reported that it was at a historic low. The spawning stock biomass of cod has stabilised and has begun to recover, and recruitment has been relatively stable since 1988 (see figures below).

The economic performance of the fishing industry has improved significantly since the quota system was adopted. Higher productivity and increased focus on value and quality has replaced the early emphasis on quantity and tonnage. This is not entirely attributable to the ITQ system, however: several other important factors, such as technological progress, effective auction markets and an increasingly efficient marketdriven industry, have also played a part. The successful economics of the Icelandic fisheries are such that the industry is self-financing with no government subsidy required.

Icelandic cod caught by gill/fixed net, longline and demersal trawls are currently certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and, since 2010, included in the Food and Agriculture Organization-based Iceland Responsible Fisheries Management Certification Programme.

The coastal sector has consolidated, making it more difficult to enter on account of higher costs (investment/capital). The economic and environmental consequences have been positive but there have also been social implications. For example, the number of employees in fisheries has decreased by 40 per cent in the past 25 years, as the sector has become much more efficient. On the other hand, some communities, which were previously not considered fishing villages, such as Arnarstapi, have grown in size, with fishing becoming a new and important part of their economy.

Challenges

While there have been overall economic gains there have been both winners and losers.

The level of initial stakeholder involvement was limited, with some industry stakeholders, such as fishers and people whose livelihoods depended to a great extent on fishing, not explicitly engaged. This was deliberate, to speed up the process to avert a crisis, but required subsequent agreement over exemptions and amendments to the system as well as efforts to better distribute the benefits of this common resource, such as regional quotas to help communities rather than the fishing firms directly.

The small vessel fleet (<15 metres), operated largely from small fishing villages, was severely affected, as optimisation and aggregation of quota shares by the largest seafood companies left small traditional fishing villages with little or no fishing rights. Around 75 per cent of the quotas now belong to 25 of the largest vessel operators and fishing companies in Iceland. Concentration of fishing rights has also gravitated towards a few big fishing harbours.

Cod catches are now largely in line with TACs; however, there remain some infractions by coastal fleets exceeding their landing allowance. There are substantial financial penalties in such cases, and the government is considering whether any further adjustments to the system are required.

Key lessons learnt

Complications, such as the need for piecemeal amendments, can arise with reforms where certain fleet segments are not treated in the same way, as demonstrated by the initial exemption of small-scale fishers from the ITQ system.

Regional quotas have been important to ensure some quota is given to towns or regions where fishing is the mainstay of the economy and therefore to help communities rather than the fishing firms directly. The effects differ widely from one region to another; they have clearly benefited the region around the capital because of its proximity to some of the regions that have received such quotas.

The initial free allocation of quotas via the “grandfathering” scheme raised concerns about the distribution of benefits of what is a common property resource to a few individuals/companies. A resource rent tax, introduced in 2012, sought to address this, with the monies raised – based on the profit margin of harvesting different species – going into the general government budget to be shared throughout the country. The level of this tax remains a controversial issue: some sectors see it as too onerous and some see it as insufficient.

The changes were driven by but not exclusively the result of the ITQ system. For example, countrywide wet fish auction markets helped increase specialisation and led to more stability in the supply of the raw material and more efficient marketing.

Sound inspections systems that control fisheries and catches are needed as well as a robust monitoring framework and scientific advice to maintain a more sustainable ecosystem and build an efficient and viable industry.

The economic element has become more sustainable but there have been social implications. The aim was to try and address these through community quotas and, although these have stopped a decline and even increased the focus on fisheries in some villages, others in less favourable areas for fishing activity have lost out.

The reform was driven mainly by economic concerns and the fact that the stock was on the brink of collapse, but other issues such as social justice were also considered important.

Download as PDF |  View all case studies