There was a time when it was relatively easy to become a small boat fisherman in Iceland. You only had to acquire a boat and start fishing. That is not so simple anymore. Now it requires a major investment because of the sky-high prices of fishing quotas.
70-80% of quotas have changed hands
Those fortunate enough to have been in the fishing business when the quota system was adopted received a quota in line with their previous fishing experience. These quotas have always been transferable and now it is estimated that 70-80% of the quotas in the small boat system have changed hands. That means that on average those operating small boats today base 20-30% of their fishing on their previous fishing experience but the rest is obtained by purchasing quotas from others. Most small boat owners have built up their fishing business gradually, both by renting quotas and by buying permanent ones.
The cost of starting from scratch
But what would it cost for a newcomer to enter the small boat fleet and start fishing?
Orn Pálsson, executive of the National Union of Small Boat Owners in Iceland estimates that the investment would never be less than 1,1 million Euros, whereof the price of a decent used boat, the size of up to 15 gross tons, would be around 130,000 Euros and the rest would be needed for a permanent quota of 70 tons. In this example it is assumed that the price of a permanent cod quota is around 15.60 Euros per kilo and for a haddock quota 11.70 Euros per kilo.
5.5 million Euros
If you, however, want to invest in a brand new 15 gross ton boat and buy a quota of 300 tons (mostly cod but also haddock and other species) the price would be a total of 5.5 million Euros, whereof close to one million Euros for the boat itself.
Pálsson asserted that those interested in joining the small boat fleet needed to have considerable equity for the operation to pay off.
Other ways to start
Still there are other ways to start. Alongside the actual small boat system there exists another category for small boats introduced in 2009, called “coastal fishery”. It is free for all (i.e. no quota is needed) but with heavy restrictions. The fishery is confined to the summer months (May-August), each participant has 12 fishing days a month, four reels are allowed per boat and the daily catch is limited to 774 kilos.
People eager to make their way into commercial fishing might start in this system while still having another occupation to attend to and then expand the fishing by renting quotas and purchasing permanent ones little by little.