Political heat turned up on Iceland fish plant row – Fishupdate.com

Political heat turned up on Iceland fish plant row Published:  31 May, 2007

Einar K. Gudfinnsson

THE threat of a jobs wipeout at one of Iceland’s most remote fishing communities is fast turning into a hot political issue.

Just 350 people live and work in the Wesfjordian town of Flateyri, where Kambur hf has decided to sell part of its fishing quota to another region, with the result that more than 30 per cent of Flateyri’s total population – many of them immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia – are at risk of losing their jobs at the local fish processing plant.

The problems plaguing this small town were discussed at a meeting of the new Icelandic coalition administration at the weekend.

Minister of Fisheries Einar K. Gudfinnsson said the government would try to solve the town’s economic problems. He said even though the quota would remain in the region, Flateyri faced a number of other problems.

Mr Gudfinnsson said it is unclear how the government will proceed.

The policy declaration of the Independence Party-Social Democrat coalition government includes a clause stating that the fishing industry in Iceland should be kept in balance.

According to Icelandic reports, the fishing company Brim hf, owned by Gudmundur Kristjansson in Rif on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, is the likely buyer of the quota from Kambur.

Meanwhile, trade unions in the region have met workers at the fish processing plant to try to work out a solution to their problems.

Finnbogi Sveinbjornsson, head of the local labour union, said: “We held the meeting to provide information and to exchange ideas. We also wanted to show the people that they will not be left behind in this mess and that we will make sure their rights are not being violated.”

The meeting was held in three languages; Icelandic, Polish and Tagalog, which is widely spoken in the Philippines. In fact, many of Kambur’s employees are of foreign origin and have become Icelandic citizens.

A further meeting was also held between the union, the Economic Development Association of the Westfjords, the Intercultural Centre, the Information Centre of the Westfjords, the school and family department of Isafjordur, the Directorate of Labour and the local authorities in the region, with the aim of finding alternative employment in fishing.

Mr Svein Bjornsson added: “We have to try and work on this as quickly as possible because we want to keep the people here. We are trying to give people ideas for other jobs in the region.

“The northern Westfjords is one economic area and we want to strengthen it further.”

Trading in valuable Icelandic fish quotas has increased sharply this year and there are fears that high interest rates – currently 14.5 per cent – and a rising krona are leading to a potential crisis within the industry.

Icelandic MP and Flateyri resident, Einar Oddur Kristjansson said last week: “I have feared for a long time that this policy rate set by the Central Bank would lead to all fishing operations along Iceland’s coast becoming defunct.”

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