Iceland faces fishing crisis as strike looms –

Iceland faces fishing crisis as strike looms Published:  14 February, 2011

ICELAND’S fishing industry was this week facing its most serious crisis for some time after talks aimed at settling a dispute by the country’s fish meal workers ended without agreement.

Another meeting is scheduled for today (mon) but unless there is a last minute intervention or breakthrough a strike will start tomorrow (Tuesday). It mainly affects plants in the east of the country and around the Westmann Islands. It could also eventually drag in neighbouring countries, including Scotland. A union official said yesterday there was no reason to be optimistic and he predicted a “long and hard strike”

The pay and conditions  dispute has been simmering for several weeks and a few days ago it was thought there might be some hope of delaying action when Iceland’s Industrial Court declared the strike illegal over a legal technicality. But the unions later complied with the  necessary regulation. and the strike was back on again.

The strike has been called right in the middle of the busy capelin processing season. Although not much seen  in the UK or Western Europe, capelin is a big money earner for the Icelandic industry, generating up to £60 million a year and makes an important contribution to the cash flow of those trawler companies with pelagic vessels. Capelin is used for fish meal, oil industry products, salmon feed and for human consumption. Capelin roe is a sought after product, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia, where it is believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.

The dispute threatens for bring capelin processing operation to a standstill and pelagic trawlers will have to stop fishing. The cost to the country’s fishing industry at a time of economic austerity will be high.

Icelandic newspapers are reporting that the vessel owners could be planning to take their catches to neighbouring countries like Norway and the Faroe Islands, where there are capelin processing facilities, and to Scotland which has fish meals plants.

According to the website the Iceland Labour Confederation has been in touch with their counterparts in those countries asking them not to handle any capelin vessels.  Normally Icelandic school students on half term break help out with the processing at this time of year and the union has appealed for them not to do anything that might be considered strike breaking.