Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

Djúpivogur and the fight for the livelihood in small communities all over the world

with 3 comments

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.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

June 26th, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Posted in Iceland

3 Responses to 'Djúpivogur and the fight for the livelihood in small communities all over the world'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Djúpivogur and the fight for the livelihood in small communities all over the world'.

  1. […] 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. Video, Read more here 08:42 […]

  2. Thank you for this concise and honest article and very well done video. I have spread it around to my fellow fishermen and fisheries advocates.

    Although not quite as concentrated as in your smaller villages, we are experiencing a similar disintegration of our local fleets and the consequent pressure on our support businesses and fishing communities from the privatization of the publically held fishery resource.

    We have lost 60% to 70% of the groundfishing vessels from our New England ports after the imposition of ITQs on our fishery in May of 2010.

    Although the colluding regulators and Environmental NGO proponents will claim that catch shares sectors do not comprise an ITQ system, that ruse is nothing but semantic legalese trickery to get around a Magnuson Stevens fishery Statute that requires a 2/3 referendum vote by permit holders before such a scheme can be foisted. A vote which would have thrown catch shares overboard.

    Catch shares aka ITQs have completely ruined an entire fishery and the regulators at NOAA are pushing for additional species to be privatized and commoditized.

    Good Luck and Keep on Keepin’ on.

    Dick Grachek
    F/V Anne Kathryn
    Port of Galilee, Rhode Island

    Dick Grachek

    28 Jun 14 at 6:18 pm

  3. Sigrún,

    I watched the short video relating the woes Djúpivogur is facing for her fishing-quota‭ “‬owner‭” vessel ‬abandoning her,‭ ‬moving to Grindavík,‭ “‬closer to Reykjavík‭”‬.‭ ‬The video must be an effective emotional explanation since it went viral in Iceland and is receiving much play elsewhere.‭ I am n‬ot emotionally inclined,‭ won ‬the video provided nothing to me.‭ ‬To comprehend the Djúpivogur situation I had to extract the essential elements from your post and other sources and translate them to a rational explanatory narrative.‭ ‬I achieved is the following, which I think should be accurate:

    First,‭ ‬looking into maritime history and tradition, there appears to traditionally be a close interactive relationship between vessels and their primary or home ports. The relationship falls within the lines of old fashioned marriage.‭ ‬Vessels, for this, equate to husbands,‭ ‬ports to wives‭; ‬the vessel go out like traditional husbands and hunt and gather while their ports look after things at home ashore, keping home fires burning, preparing for the vessel’s return,‭ and on that return ‬engaging in processing,‭ ‬preparing,‭ ‬marketing and so forth the bounty of the vessel’s hunting, then looking after the vessel, too,‭ the family of the port, the people, of the settlement, ‬cleaning,‭ ‬sprucing up and putting to right the vessel, replenisihing its stores and preparing it for its next mutually beneficial venturing.

    ‭You can see why the traditional marriage analogy fits. ‬What is done by the vessel in the relationship benefits the port,‭ ‬what is done by the port benefits the vessel,‭ ‬the children of the two,‭ ‬the people of the settlement, sailors and shoresiders, depend on the relationship and benefit from the relationship.‭ S‬ea-going vessels indicate a recognition of their marriage-like relationship to their ports in the tradition of carrying their port’s name with their own, and being usually identified by name and port together.

    Iceland appears to have recognized the traditional relationship between vessels and ports being marriage-like when initiating the fishing-quota system.‭ ‬This is indicated by the distribution of the quota shares to vessels home-ported around the island, not in one or two larger “more efficient” ports, the intent appearing, and being stated, to be to share the bounty of the waters‭ full ‬around amongst the island’s port-vessel‭ ‘‬families‭’ (vessels and ‬villages‭)‬.‭ ‬The distribution of the quotas to the vessels,‭ ‬without inclusion of the ports,‭ ‬suggests marriage not “progressive” in those days, or perhaps the duffers doing the distributing being old-fashioned, perhaps a little too much influenced by their imaginations, or wishings to preserve traditions.‭ ‬Perhaps the quota distributors merely had more faith in the honor and integrity of Icelandic vessel-husbands than events have proved they warranted.

    However idealistically it all started, what is being seen now is what Djúpivogur is seen lamenting in her video:‭ ‬Ports left forlorn by vessels who have “grown beyond them” and find them today too provincial,‭ ‬too familiar, too much the old boot,‭ ‬just not exciting anymore, etc. etc., wherefore they have begun running off to take up with other fancier ports.‭ ‬Ones like Grindavík,‭ ‬who are,‭ ‬as you note Grindavík to be,‭ ‬nearer to Reykjavík.‭ ‬Reykjavík is,‭ ‬of course,‭ the‬ big-city floozy port of Iceland,‭ ‬fancy with frumpery and gaudy with grandeur,‭ or what looks like it to yearning to be a rover provincial fishing vessels‬.

    With the quota entrusted to them as traditionally through past eons, to them alone, as the husband,‭ vessels in Iceland today‬ may simply shoulder their duffles and pack off to take up with a fancy port. And they may take the whole family’s wealth and livelihood, to lay at the feet of the fancier floozy.‭ ‬In fact,‭ the vessel ‬having the family quota in his pocket necessarily makes him attractive to the more salacious kinds of ports, and others, who are avaricious and ‭unscrupulous‬.

    And so the traditions based quota-shares system not only leads to the ruins of the quiet and simple provincial ports,‭ ‬like Djúpivogur,‭ who are ‬left bereft, without income, sustenance or maintenance, it leads to predations upon the vessels who might be susceptible, the weaker vessels.

    Putting Djúpivogur’s situation into these terms,‭ ‬I am able to understand the situation.

    Putting the matters into still more familiar terms, familiar for the wonderful opportunities the world has given us all to study scoundrels and scoundrelly behaviourssince 2007, I am able to project the present situation, unless sorted out, coming to worse before the end:‭ Notice that t‬he Icelandic fishing quotas,‭ ‬if the vessels can carry them around, if they are not co-owned between vessels and ports in Iceland, that cannot be sailed from Iceland, are movable properties.‭ ‬This makes them chattel and not sovereign to Iceland.‭ It makes them ‬tradable and transferrable in open markets,‭ ‬and in dark markets,‭ ‬such as Barclay’s has recently been exposed conducting, everywhere, around the world. Movable Icelandic fishing quota shares that can be moved and transferred at owner’s will in Iceland can be moved and transferred out of Iceland and outside of Iceland around the world. They can be sold to and owned by anybody.‭ They are, w‬ithout sovereign ties to Iceland,‭ ‬such as keep the homes of pensioners in France and
    Spain from being tradable outside of France or Spain,‭ ‬in Luxembourg,‭ like those homeowners’ equities, which are movable and can be carried anywhere.

    With Icelandic quota-shares movable, vessel-owned fish-catch value properties, they are temptations to vulture-capitalists, who might lure an Icelandic vessel into a Vultures Club,‭ ‬ply him with drinks and led to play at dice or cards, and then draw him into betting and ultimately to betting his quota,‭ ‬or securing a loan with his quota for collateral.‭ ‬Then,‭ ‬when the vessel is as strung out as Argentina, thevulture-sharper might foreclose to take the quota-share. How much might an Icelandic fishing quota share go for auctioned in Aberdeen,‭ ‬or Liverpool, or‭ ‬Rotterdam or Bremen‭? ‬Iceland might well object but the vulture would take his case to a European court for enforcement,‭ and with the quota-shares established as movable property, ‬being only a right to a portion of a catch-quota removable from Icelandic-waters, wholly owned by the vessel,‭ ‬there would be no question of sovereign ownership existing.

    Establishing Icelandic quota-shares common property, co-owned by port and vessel, would put an economic crimp in Icelandic vessels‭’ ‬abilities to port-hop, but it would not curb their freedom to do so: They would still be free to, but would, if hey did, be responsible to contract the share their former port owned, and to pay maintenance to the port they would abandon. The effect would be simply to update the vessel-and-port marriage laws from traditional and out of touch with modern realities, to up to date and modern. Perhaps a basin could be added at Kvíabryggja for vessels behind on their ex-port maintenance payments.‭

    RL Dogh

    4 Jul 14 at 12:43 am

Leave a Reply