Sea Changes Ashore : The Ocean and Iceland's Herring Captial
Keywords:Iceland, fisheries, climate change, human dimensions, Siglufjordur, herring, Great Salinity Anomaly, overfishing
The story of Siglufjörður (Siglufjordur), a north Iceland village that became the "Herring Capital of the World," provides a case study of complex interactions between physical, biological, and social systems. Siglufjörður's natural capital - a good harbor and proximity to prime herring grounds - contributed to its development as a major fishing center during the first half of the 20th century. This herring fishery was initiated by Norwegians, but subsequently expanded by Icelanders to such an extent that the fishery, and Siglufjörður in particular, became engines helping to pull the whole Icelandic economy. During the golden years of this "herring adventure," Siglufjörður opened unprecedented economic and social opportunities. Unfortunately, the fishing boom reflected unsustainably high catch rates. In the years following World War II, overfishing by an international fleet eroded the once-huge herring stock. Then, in the mid-1960s, large-scale physical changes took place in the seas north of Iceland. These physical changes had ecological consequences that led to the loss of the herring's main food supply. Severe environmental stress, combined with heavy fishing pressure, drove the herring stocks toward collapse. Siglufjörður found itself first marginalized, then shut out as the herring progressively vanished. During the decades following the 1968 collapse, this former boomtown has sought alternatives for sustainable development.