Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

Fishermen – the highest earners in Iceland

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If anyone is in doubt what matters in Iceland, the answer can be found in who are the top earners in Iceland. Now we know: fishing matters, again – and fishermen are the highest earners. It also indicates the strong standing of Icelandic fisheries and how well this business is going.

When the Icelandic banks collapsed in October 2008 the news went around the world that now Icelandic bankers were turning fishermen. The reason was that some journalists had indeed found a banker or two who had secured a place on a trawler or a fishing boat. Since then, I don’t know how often I have been asked if this was indeed the case – that Icelandic bankers were turning to fishing en masse. No, it isn’t. Though there certainly may have been bankers who secured themselves a place on a fishing boat (most likely through family relations) this was not a general trend.

But if it had been a general trend, ex-bankers would be doing just fine. It turns out that fishermen are indeed the group with the highest income in – and yes, they beat CEOs… and bankers.

Every year, the Icelandic business magazine Frjáls verslun (Free trade), publishes an issue entirely devoted to income – of social groups and well known individuals from all walks of life, i.a. politicians, media people, artists and business men. In total, the issue publishes the earnings of 3500 individuals. This is possible because the Inland Revenue in Iceland publishes every year, around this time, what every individual in Iceland pays in tax. (Yes, this may sound incredible to foreigners but this is transparency the Icelandic way: the overview is only open for a few days and only in books one has to visit in person at the Inland Revenue offices). From the tax, it is possible to calculate income, i.e. the ISK people get into their pockets. Thus, these numbers tell a certain story of salary but not the whole story of assets, income from dividends etc.

This year, the Frjáls verslun income issue publishes this week, shows that fishermen have superseded CEOs in terms of income. The general salary reference in Iceland is not a year’s income but the monthly income. The top 200 fishermen earners now have ISK2.5m, €15.6000, a month, compared to CEOs’ ISK2.3m, €14.400.

This is interesting in terms of salary, social groups and their social leverage. But it of course is also an interesting indication of Icelandic fisheries. Whereas fisheries are heavily subsidised in many countries, almost political pet projects, Icelandic fisheries are a booming industry.

What is clear from the Frjáls verslun data is that salary of CEOs, bankers and fisherman is rising much more rapidly than inflation. This may bode ill for the Icelandic economy since there will be wage negotiations for large groups in the labour market later this year. The tendency among these three groups will set the tone for these negotiations. Already, some are pointing out that CEOs and bankers are showing great irresponsibility, unavoidably egging other groups to irrational and unreasonable wage demands.

No, no one is blaming the fishermen because their salary is set, to a great degree, by what they fish and the value of their catches. Their catches, mostly sold abroad, went up in value with the collapsing krona, in addition to price increases due to improved marketing. And in general, fishermen tend to have a brahmin stature in Iceland: they are rarely criticised and certainly, politicians do not make disparaging remarks about fishermen since in many ways fishermen are seen as pillars of society. In Iceland, fishermen are talked of as “heroes of the oceans.”

As to public figures, the president of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson now earns ISK2m, €12.5000, a month, up by ISK400, €2.500, from last year. The prime minister earns ISK1.5m, €9.400, a month.

As to social groups the average monthly salary of the top 200 earners in every group is the following:

                                                        2012       2013 
Fishermen                                   ISK2,4 m        ISK2,5 m
CEOs                                             ISK2,2 m        ISK2,3 m
Financial companies               ISK 1,6 m        ISK1,7 m
Managers (below CEOs)         ISK2,0 m        ISK1,6 m
Top 100 in education               ISK0,9 m.       ISK1,0 m
Health services                          ISK1,5 m        ISK1,4 m

*Here is an overview of the income issue, in Icelandic, from Frjáls verslun.


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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

July 27th, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Iceland

4 Responses to 'Fishermen – the highest earners in Iceland'

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  1. Sigrún,
    I just dropped in to catch up and I am a bit confused. If I read aright, the figures you have for earnings are monthly earnings, and from those you have extrapolated to annual earnings by multiplying by twelve months. I can see this being reasonable for executives, managers, perhaps CEOs, if they live on salaries alone, all the þings in Alþhingi, and even the President of Iceland, all of whom we may assume receive monthly pay for each of the twelve months of each year. But are fishermen in Iceland salaried? Or does their pay depend upon the catchings of their boats? And, isn’t fishing controlled by definitions of seasons in Iceland? I am sure I have heard somewhere that they are. As I recall, a part of the EU’s difficulties with disappearance of fishing stocks was for EU failures to regulate and enforce seasons, so that EU fishermen attempted to achieve twelve months per year of monthly pay, as managers, etc. do, by fishing twelve months each year.
    Where I have enquired I have found fishing to be seasonal, with seasons regulated, some regulated to as short as ten days. In those cases the fishermen’s whole pay from their fishing of that species for the whole year, may depend on what they catch in the season’s ten days. Most do fish more than one species-season each year, most travel about a good deal to fish different species for different lengths of seasons, but most do all their fishing in some four or five months of the year. They lay up and do maintenance and repair the rest of the year, earning no pay, if they own boats and equipment. Or they go off to spend the share-money they earned, if they only hired on as crew. None I know of earn salaries for twelve months of the year, at least not from fishing alone. The next time you visit Iceland run down to the fishing docks and ask some fishermen if in Iceland they do. I will be surprised if it isn’t the same with them as here. If we do a little investigation we should be able to learn the correct number of months per year, and average earnings per each of those months, to use to calculate Icelandic fisherman’s more likely annual incomes. Then you will be able to correct those “lubbers” who think fishing is a job like managers and executives and Alþingers and their clerks and aids hold.


    11 Aug 13 at 12:30 am

  2. As is, I hope, clearly stated in the text the numbers refer to monthly salary, i.e. the whole annual intake is divided up into months. The top 200 fishermen are calculated to earn on average ISK2.5m a month this year.

    Yes, fishermen earn according to catches but turned into salary, i.e. what they get paid out, the outcome is as above. I use the reference of monthly salary because as stated above that’s how it’s done in Iceland. Multiply by 12 and you will get the annual salary.

  3. Hi,how easy or difficult is for some one to get job in fishing in iceland or faroe islands and how much unskilled person can expect to earn in this field.


    4 Oct 19 at 8:05 pm

  4. Please help stop fishing.

    Please help stop thier hell.


    burnt souul

    15 Oct 20 at 2:10 am

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