Iceland: The Most Important Fishing Nation in Europe

Fishing is one of the pillars of Iceland’s economy, and the country is a leader in fishing sustainability.

Iceland is home to one of the most modern and competitive fishing industries in the world, based on protection of the marine ecosystem and a sustainable harvest. Fisheries remain one of the strongest sectors of the Icelandic economy making it responsible for a large share of both the GDP and the nation’s export revenue. Iceland, which is a small country with just 330,000 inhabitants, is undeniably one of the world’s leaders in total fisheries, but has in recent years also become a leading country in the advancement of marine technology, fish detection instruments, as well as maintaining a sophisticated fishing sector, exporting world-class produce around the world.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of fish to Icelanders. Throughout the centuries, it has been the backbone of the nation, both as its chief food supply, and its main export product. Historical evidence suggests that Icelandic fish export dates back to the 12th century at the very latest, so Iceland has centuries of experience.


Economic Impact
The fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy. According to data released by Statistics Iceland, Iceland is the most important fishing nation of Europe. In 2013, the total catch by Icelandic fishermen was 1,362,790 tons. At the same time the total world catch was 94 million tons, most of which was caught in Asia and Africa, followed by Europe. In that year Iceland was the second largest fishing nation of Europe after Norway, and the 18th largest fishing nation in the world. China was the largest fishing nation in the world in 2013.
Iceland’s fishing industry is one of the key industries in Iceland, and directly employs around 9,000 people, or approximately 5.3% of the total workforce on the island. The fishing industry contributed 11% to the GDP directly, and 25% if account is taken of the indirect effects of the ocean cluster in 2012. Additionally, in 2012 the export production of marine products amounted to ISK 269 billion (€ 1.7 billion), a 6.8% increase from previous year and by 11.4% in quantity, a total of 749 thousand tons. Frozen products generated 53% of the value of exported marine products, and marine products account for approximately 42% of total export value.
Iceland’s exclusive fisheries zone has an impressive area of 760,000 square kilometers, seven times the area of Iceland itself. Some of the largest fish stocks in the North Atlantic are found within Icelandic waters, including halibut, haddock, and cod, which is Iceland’s most important stock.


Management System
The Icelandic fisheries management system was put in place to ensure responsible fisheries, an important issue for Iceland. The fisheries management in Iceland is based on extensive research on fish stocks and the marine ecosystem, and decisions on allowable catches for quotas are made on the basis of advice from the Icelandic Marine Research Institute. Catches are then monitored and enforced by the Directorate of Fisheries. These are the main pillars of the Icelandic fisheries management intended to ensure responsible fisheries and the sustainability of the North Atlantic Ocean’s natural resources.
Rapid advances in Icelandic fisheries have been accompanied by the development of manufacturing and service industries that draw on long experience of the practical needs of fishing and fish processing operations. The fishing fleet is equipped with advanced technology and the same is true for the processing facilities on land. Among the leading fields are software, electronic and digital equipment, as well as land-based weighing and process control.



A wide selection of packaging for handling storage and retailing of fresh and frozen products are made in Iceland, as well as trawl nets, safety equipment and protective clothing. Icelandic manufacturers have designed and installed many processing plants around the world for companies ranging from vessel owners to industrial food processors.
Sustainable and responsible harvesting of wild fish stocks in Icelandic waters and good treatment of the marine ecosystem is of a fundamental importance to Iceland. The fishing industry in Iceland is meeting demands of buyers for sustainable use of marine resources with Iceland Responsible Fisheries program, developed on the basis of commitments made through national law and international agreement. Iceland’s fishing industry is thriving and remains one of the most important in Europe.

Photos: Atli Egilsson