Earlier this year, Djúpivogur – a fishing village on the East coast about as far from Reykjavík as possible – suffered the same fate as some other fishing villages in Iceland: the fishing quota that sustained the village was moved to a village close to Reykjavík. But instead of suffering in silence the people of Djúpivogur have made a video that resonates the struggle of small communities around the globe in a changing world.
The Icelandic fisheries policy, built on transferable quotas that follow the vessels, has secured that fishing is a thriving business in Iceland and at the same time it has helped secure sustainable fishing. Or that is the official story. This apparently successful fishery policy has however been less successful in securing livelihood for small fishing villages along the Icelandic coastline: as fishing industries get bigger and more concentrated some villages have lost quotas or, in some cases, the quota has sailed away as fishing vessels are harboured in new places.
End of March, this happened in Djúpivogur, with just under 500 inhabitants. The fishing quota, which had been processed in the freezing plant, would now be landed and processed in Grindavík, meaning that around 50 people would lose their jobs, a heavy blow for this small village and the whole economy in this part of Iceland. The owners of the freezing plant, who planned to operate only in Grindavík, offered people help to move to Grindavík, where they could get work.
Some of those hit by the changes accepted being moved to Grindavík. But others thought of a different reaction: a video (brilliantly made by Arctic Projects) in Icelandic was made to make it clear to people what was going on. The video went viral in Iceland, became a news topic showing a different aspect of the planned changes in Djúpavogur. This had already made news at the time it happened but as often with such news, it only got attention for a day or so.
Following the video and the attention it caused the owners of the fishing industry decided to postpone the move for a year – and Djúpivogur suddenly got plenty of attention, also from politicians who have so far mostly ignored this unfortunate side-effect of the Icelandic fisheries policy: the fisheries thrive as a business but small villages live and die at the whim of these businesses. It’s not an easy situation to resolve but the people of Djúpivogur have given faces and voice to what happens when the quota sails away. Djúpivogur has been a thriving place, with start-ups and other creative businesses attracting young people back home after education and work experience elsewhere. It now demonstrates the fishery dilemma in a nut shell: it’s better for business to have transferable quotas but it’s the death of communities when the whole quota in that village is moved elsewhere.
As the introduction to the video says:
The purpose of this video, made on behalf of the Djúpivogur local council, is to alert people and politicians to the plight of Djúpivogur. The community has now fallen victim to the flaws of the Icelandic fisheries management system when it comes to small communities. Since 1984, the Icelandic fisheries management system has been based on individual transferable quotas that are allocated to individual vessels. If the vessel’s home harbor changes, the fishing quota goes with it. Although the stated aim of the fisheries Act is to “promote employment and settlement throughout Iceland”, its implementation, supported by politicians, is actually a serious threat to small communities around the country. The people of Djúpivogur demand of the government that it guarantee the community a fair share of the fish stocks belonging
to the Icelandic people.
The people of Djúpivogur were widely heard in Iceland. Here is the English version, which introduces this problem to the wider world where, though for other reasons than in Iceland, many small communities fight for their lives. It is difficult not to be touched by the emotional thrust of this striking little video story.
Take five minutes to watch this video and contemplate this Icelandic story from Djúpivogur, a small community that feels it has plenty to offer its inhabitants if only the transferable quotas were allocated not only according to the needs of the fishing industry but also in tune with the needs of those who live in the fishing villages. The video gives an insight into life in Iceland, the certain harshness and unpredictability – and the resilient wish to develop further the good life at Djúpivogur – a striking parallel to life in so many other parts of the world.
Follow me on Twitter for running updates.