Closing the open sea: Development of fishery management in four Icelandic fisheries

Thórólfur Matthíasson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The article outlines the development of Iceland's fishery rights and the extension of its territorial waters between the 1950s and the mid-1970s, whereby Iceland gained exclusive control and use of the marine resources of the waters within 12, later 50, and ultimately 200 nautical miles around the island. The article concentrates on four of Iceland's main fisheries: shrimp, herring, capelin and cod. These four fisheries are discussed separately and in depth, presenting the beginnings and growth of the industry and detailing the development of management practices and the corresponding legislation and regulatory measures. Iceland's initial concern was to gain control over the marine resources surrounding the island, but once this was achieved, the focus of attention shifted to managing first the economic and soon also the ecological aspects of its tremendous resource. Informed mainly by indigenous expertise, Iceland's concern was to limit overfishing, manage its fisheries sustainably both from the economic and ecological points of view, and find the best ways to distribute the revenues from the marine harvest. The article looks at each of the four fisheries to clarify how the individual transferable quota (ITQ) system came into being, how initial quota holdings were allotted, and analyses the circumstances under which the ITQ system became the management tool of choice. For each fishery, the process of regulatory evolution was quite unique. At the same time, there is a common pattern to all the fisheries, which may be summarized as follows. Firstly, serious attempts to reform management practices only got underway when the fishery had collapsed or was close to collapse. Secondly, stakeholders invariably started the process of regulation by limiting access to the fishery. Thirdly, a variety of rules were implemented to allocate rights to participate in the fishery to additional entrants once membership had been closed. Finally, prior to the invention of the ITQ system, prices were used to manage fisheries in Iceland. It may be concluded that the management of fisheries by ITQs may be a historical accident, rather than the end point of a logical evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalNatural Resources Forum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2003

Other keywords

  • Icelandic capelin fishery
  • Icelandic demersal fisheries
  • Icelandic fisheries management
  • Icelandic herring fishery
  • Icelandic shrimp fishery
  • Individual transferable quotas


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