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Thor Sigfusson

Thor Sigfusson is the founder and Managing director of the Iceland Ocean Cluster.

He has been the chairman of the Federation of Employers in Iceland and MD of Sjóvá (Ocean Insurance) and Iceland Chamber of Commerce.


Fish is the reason for Iceland´s EU skeptisism
Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Negotiations between Iceland and the EU regarding Iceland’s accession into the EU began formally in the summer of 2010. The Iceland’s EU accession process faces contentious issues on fisheries which are likely to become a threshold for an agreement. Concerns over sovereignty losses, especially in the fisheries, are the main reason why Icelanders are not more enthusiastic about joining the Union to say the least. This skepticism is both logical and simple.

In a recent study conducted by the Iceland Ocean Cluster, fisheries and all related industries in Iceland utilising the fishing resources, directly account for over 25% of Iceland’s gross domestic product. This compares with 1-5% in countries such as Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Scotland. No other European country has faced uncertainty regarding such a crucial and significant natural resource in its accession process as Iceland. This is not always understood or appreciated.

But is there uncertainty? Iceland’s total catch amounts to approximately 20% of EU’s total catch. If Iceland would join the EU with a similar path regarding fisheries as most other fishing nations in the EU, the country will lose sovereignty over important parts of these very large resources, particularly migratory fish. Iceland has sovereignty over existing fishing stock but it is difficult to see how Iceland is to become reliant upon EU fish stock negotiations regarding new fish stocks in the Icelandic waters. There are obviously doubts in Iceland that the country with a population of 315 thousand will be in a strong position in fish stock negotiations with the EU?

Another worry which Icelanders have addressed stems from discussions with people in the seafood and fisheries industry within the EU. Mentioning fisheries to Europeans seldom creates excitement. Europe is somehow embarrassed about its fisheries. This is even harder for Icelanders to understand as Cod is in many ways our pride. The pride is best shown in how Icelandic firms use the natural resource in a sustainable way and the variety of Cod by-products manufactured in Iceland: fish oil and omega3, fish roe tarama, skin products from marine enzymes, marine-derived tissue regeneration products, Cod eggs, Cod liver patés, fishleather, etc., all from Cod, resulting in at least 30% higher value of each caught fish compared with most other fishing nations.

Our neighbours in Ireland have an impressive ongoing project which they call “Smart Ocean” where they are clearly using the EU membership to become in a leading position in Ocean IT in Europe and worldwide. The worry is thought that the Irish fishermen have witnessed how the access to the Ireland's substantial fish stocks was quietly negotiated away during accession talks in the 1970s by a government which did not realize the potential of one of the largest fishing resources in the North Atlantic. Instead the Irish Government emphasised on saving and strengthening Irish agriculture within EU. Another brilliant Government strategy! Now the Irish present their Ocean area with a marking of “EU’s Economic Zone”.

The seafood sector continues to be a very important industry in Iceland: more important than most Europeans will realize. The oceans around Iceland provide opportunities to create both tangible and intangible resources. In a country like Iceland with much higher reliance on these resources than any other European country, Icelanders are understandably in no hurry to risk these very valuable resources.


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