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Responsible fishing the key to Iceland's eco-label

Iceland´s own eco-label that demonstrates the country's responsible fishing policies will be launched for the first time at the Icelandic Fisheries Exhibition that is due to be held in Reykjavík between 2nd and 4th of October. This is seen as a major step towards ensuring that Icelandic seafood products will maintain their position on overseas markets in the future.

The project to establish the eco-label has been managed by a working group under the leadership of Dr Kristján Thórarinsson from the Icelandic Federation of Fishing Vessel Owners and vice-chairman of the Icelandic Fisheries Association, Gudbergur Rúnarsson of the Federation of Fish Producers, Rúnar Thór Stefánsson of HB Grandi, Gunnar Tómasson of Thorbjörn hf, Örn Pálsson of the National Association of Small Boat Owners and Steinar Ingi Matthíasson on behalf of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. In addition to these people, Finnur Gardarsson of the Icelandic Fisheries Association has worked with the group and participated in developing the formal requirements that the certification will be based on. He agreed to answer a few questions about the thinking behind the Icelandic eco-label and how this is expected to be presented overseas.

'We are looking to reach overseas media in particular. We will explain there what our plans are and in this way we will reach overseas customers and consumers of Icelandic seafood products. The label tells the consumer that the product is of Icelandic origin and has been caught under a responsible fisheries management regime. This relates directly to Iceland's fisheries management, which is built on the best available scientific knowledge and the international agreements on fisheries management that Iceland is a party to. This is being done in response to the market's requirements and this is a marketing tool. We hope that the label will be taken into general use shortly after its presentation. There is still plenty to be done, including registering the label internationally as our copyright and setting clear guidelines for use and for what products it may be used,' Finnur Gardarsson says.


Certifying responsible fishing

The certification of Icelandic fisheries as responsibly managed has been in progress for some time and this is part of the same process. Finnur Gardarsson says that the demands from different markets can vary significantly, in that in some areas there is more emphasis on the origin of the product than on labelling as such. But in other market areas the main issue is to demonstrate that the seafood products come from a stock that is exploited in a responsible and sustainable manner. Finnur Gardarsson comments that certification can take some time and the process requires painstaking attention to detail.

'This is a task that calls for the highest professionalism,' he says.

When does the certification process begin?

'It's started already. We have been in touch with several internationally recognised and respected certification bodies, all of which have expressed interest in the project. The outline requirements, that a certification body will have to work to, have already been written and these are being examined by a technical committee with the assistance of the relevant organisations. The outline requirements set a standard and a set of precise descriptions of what a certification body will be expected to examine to ensure that a particular fishery is responsible and sustainable. We also have to demonstrate the traceability of the products, showing a reliable traceability system to demonstrate that products are genuinely from the indicated stock. The outline requirements have been written to comply with 'the FAO  Guidelines for the Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries'. Everything needs to be transparent and open to all. At the same time, the outline requirements need to be made public in good time so that any comments can be addressed.'

When is the process likely to end?

'The main unknown quantity in the certification process is whether or not the certifying body needs to have its own particular accreditation to be able to handle this kind of work. This in itself will not be clarified until the certifying body has read the outline requirements and consulted its own accreditor. We are hoping that the certification process for the first species will be closed by the end of next year, although we are prepared for this taking longer.'

Introduction at overseas exhibitions

According to Finnur Gardarsson, presentation of the project and its status will be a particularly important task in the near future.

'Following the Icelandic Fisheries Exhibition, we need to present the label and the status of the certification process to overseas buyers. This will be done with visits and presence at exhibitions, in particular the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels. This gives us an opportunity to answer questions and give interviews as necessary as the process develops. There is plenty to be done ahead of us, with some urgent issues to be addressed, and hopefully the market will respond positively. Our prime objective is to be able to assure our customers and consumers that Icelandic fisheries are  responsible and that our products can be consumed with a clear conscience,' says Finnur Gardarsson.