What are the consequences of global warming on Icelandic fisheries?
Hreiðar Þór Valtýsson is a marine and fisheries scientist and one of the directors of the Fisheries program at the University of Akureyri. He has worked both as a program director and lecturer at the university but is currently on a research leave. One of his main research topics is examining the effects of climate change on fish and fisheries in Iceland.
Valuable fish stocks migrate with the warming oceans
Hreiðar states that it has been predicted that Iceland and other Arctic countries will benefit economically from global warming. "Valuable fish species are expected to move northward with warming. Greenland and the Arctic region of Russia will likely receive more cod as the ecosystem transitions from an Arctic ecosystem with marine mammals and small fish to a cold-temperate ecosystem where large and valuable fish species like cod thrive." Valuable species are moving northward. Hreiðar also mentions that it has been suggested that these changes can be seen in the increase of mackerel that arrived in Iceland in the early 2000s and became a significant commercial fishery in 2008. "Mackerel arrived as a savior for us during the economic crash, and the fisheries grew substantially," says Hreiðar.
Does warming spell potential growth or loss?
Hreiðar claims to have obtained preliminary results in his research on whether we gain or lose in fisheries due to global warming. "Of course, the warming period is not over; it is still warming, and it is likely to continue warming. Many people have the feeling that we have gained because we got mackerel, but we have also lost other species in return, such as shrimp and capelin. Those are cold-water species that have essentially disappeared. Warm-water species are moving in, but cold-water species are disappearing. The last ten to twenty years have been poor in capelin fisheries, so the value of the decline is actually as significant as the increase," says Hreiðar.
Why fisheries science?
Hreiðar studied biology at the University of Iceland and then pursued fisheries science abroad. When asked why he chose to study in these fields, he says, "When other kids went to the countryside, I went to my grandparents in Seyðisfjörður, where my grandfather was a fisherman and had a freezer facility. I started working in fishing during the summers when I was around 12 years old. I always enjoyed it; there was a lot of freedom and good income. You wouldn't allow children to do that nowadays; there is so much quality control in the fishing industry that you wouldn't let kids in. There, I could also run around, observe strange fish, and do things that are prohibited today. It sparked my interest in the subject, so it was always clear that I would pursue something related to fishing," says Hreiðar. After completing his studies, Hreiðar worked as a researcher at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute and later became a staff member at the University of Akureyri.
Fisheries science course was well attended
The University of Akureyri offers a three-year undergraduate program in Fisheries Science that has been well attended by both distance and on-campus students. Students in Fisheries Science also have the option to add an additional year in Business Administration and graduate with two degrees. Hreiðar mentions that the attendance has been good now but was very low around 2007. "At that time, Icelanders lost interest in fisheries, and it was disappearing, but then Hörður, a former student, and I took it upon ourselves, with the help of good people, to establish the program," says Hreiðar. The University of Akureyri also offers a master's program in Fisheries Science, which Hreiðar teaches. Hreiðar emphasizes the importance for the university to provide further education in Fisheries Science, but there is still room for improvement.
“My life is like a sling”
Hreiðar Þór was born in Akureyri, lived in Reykjavík when his father was attending university there, and also moved to Reykjavík for his biology studies. He then went to Vancouver to study fisheries science. "My life is like a stretch, starting here, going far away, and then bouncing back," says Hreiðar with a laugh. Hreiðar states that the interaction between fisheries, climate, and ocean temperatures, which he is currently researching, is intriguing. "What I am primarily investigating is the long-term and historical development of fisheries in the Iceland grounds. The development in terms of fishing capacity, the number of vessels, and their connection to oil spills, which in turn is related to climate change. I have made several rounds with this, but the main starting point is to examine the effects of climate change on fisheries in Iceland. What effects have they had, and what effects will they have in the future?"
"Valuable fish species are expected to move northward with warming. Greenland and the Arctic region of Russia will likely receive more cod as the ecosystem transitions from an Arctic ecosystem with marine mammals and small fish to a cold-temperate ecosystem where large and valuable fish species like cod thrive."