May 18, 2022

You knew that Icelanders are a fishing nation, right? Until tourism recently took over in foreign revenue, fishing and selling of maritime products was the most important economic activity. Now in May and all through the bright summer months when the sun never sets, a little fleet of 700 boats is setting out to catch their share of the fish in the sea. It's called strandveiðitímabil. Coastal fishing season. Another one of those long, combination words – go on, have a go at pronouncing it!

Let's break it down for you:

strand = coast

veiði = fishing (or hunting)

tímabil = time period or space of time

You could also start with just strandveiðar, which means coastal fishing ;)

Fisheries in Iceland have been ruled by a complex quota system since it became clear that we, as well as foreign ships, were about to destroy this natural resource. The quota system from 1983 turned everything around, in every way. It proved to be very effective in establishing sustainability within the sector and is admired, and envied, by many countries where whole species have disappeared from their waters, never to return, due to uncontrolled  fisheries.

But the quota system was less successful socially. As time passed, ships and quota was sold from smaller towns whose work force and financial stability depended entirely on equipping and running fishing vessels and processing fish on land. People moved away to bigger places with more opportunities. Their life investments, their housing, became worthless while quota owners became richer than we had ever seen before, creating a new class of the few, with riches only paraled in fables, and in other countries.

Read here about how, through legislation in 1990, "fish went from being a common good to a private good" with a few in possession of an "intangible resource which they could sell for a tangible profit".

Late 2021, an artist collective called Vesturport made a television series about the effects of the fishing quota, as it was being established in the 80's, on the life of various individuals from different parts of society. The show is fiction, but based on real events, and very well researched. As such is really touched a nerve. The show is called Verbúðin, which is the name of the place where workers in a fish processing factories lived. The show received very good reviews and got the whole nation talking and reminiscing. Verbúðin-themed parties were also very popular for a while, as any excuse to bring up the fashion and music of the 80's is always welcomed! Read about the show here on IMDb and here on RÚV (the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service).

But let‘s talk about waterfalls and sunsets. Let's imagine the small boat owner, the guy next door, sailing out to the freedom of the open seas, the fresh air (and some diesel), pulling in cod (þorskur), haddock (ýsa) or saithe (ufsi), to his heart‘s delight. Or not quite, there is a maximum there also.

In the evening, the water is boiling on the stove, potatoes will soon be ready and the freshest catch ever on his plate. With melted butter and salt on top. The quintessential Icelandic meal. Yum!


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