Iceland Agriculture and Fishing Overview

Iceland Facts

Iceland is known for its majestic volcanoes and Geyshire. You can’t leave Iceland without a dip in the hot water of the Blue Lagoon.
Capital: Reykjavik
Official language: Icelandic
Currency: Icelandic krona (ISK)
Passport and visa: a Finnish national needs a travel document, passport or ID card.
Time difference to Finland: -2
Daylight saving time is not used.

The climate in Iceland is mild all year round thanks to the Gulf Stream. The temperature in southern Iceland drops to a low of around -10 C in winter. In northern Iceland, on the other hand, about -15 degrees Celsius. The highest temperature on the warmest day in July is about + 21 C in the south and + 18 C in the north. In southern Iceland, the wettest time is from October to March. The driest time is late spring, May and June. Northern Iceland is a drier area than the south.

Agriculture and fishing

Only about one percent of Iceland’s surface area is cultivated, while one fifth of the land area is used as pasture. Agriculture is primarily focused on animal breeding. Fishing is a major industry and Iceland has expanded its fishing zone on several occasions, which has created conflicts with other countries.

  • CountryAAH: Comprehensive import regulations of Iceland. Covers import prohibitions and special documentation requirements for a list of prohibited items.

Farmers are primarily concerned with breeding sheep, horses, goats and cattle. Iceland is largely self-sufficient in milk and meat. Animal breeding takes place in a natural environment with a ban on hormone supplements and gene modification. The wool industry was previously significant but has declined due to low wool prices. On the other hand, the breeding of pigs, and consumption of pork, has increased. The export of the famous Icelandic horses is an important industry.

In some areas, fodder plants and potatoes are grown, but the cool climate makes it difficult to grow cereals, vegetables and fruits, which are therefore largely imported. However, there are a lot of greenhouse crops that are heated using hot springs. Nowadays Icelandic tomatoes are grown, grown without pesticides but with clean water and clean energy. For Iceland defense and foreign policy, please check relationshipsplus.


Iceland is surrounded by nutritious water. Fisheries still accounted for almost three quarters of exports in the 1990s. The proportion has subsequently gradually decreased to around a quarter. Nearly eighth Icelander was employed in the fishing industry in 1990, but by the end of the 2010s the scope had been reduced to twenty. Iceland is a world leader in computer technology for fishing and fish processing. On modern trawlers, processing, packing and freezing of fish takes place on board.

Around 95 percent of the total fish catch is exported. Cod is economically most important and has at times been hit by depletion. The herring, which was once most significant, disappeared from Icelandic waters after hard predatory fishing in the 1960s, but later returned. Solder is used for fishmeal and fish oil and has occasionally been caught in very large quantities. The catches of mackerel, kingfish, grayling, shrimp and haddock are also significant.

Re-debated quota system

In 1983, the Government of Iceland introduced fishing quotas (restrictions on catching certain fish species) since fishing threatened the future of the industry. At the same time, all fishing was privatized and each fishing boat was allocated a share of the allowable catch. The quotas are reassessed each year on the basis of scientific evidence.

In 2007, cod stocks around Iceland were considered to have reached a historically low level and the following year the Ministry of Fisheries temporarily put a stop to cod fishing. The catch quota was then kept down, and by 2012, the cod stock had grown to its highest level in almost three decades.

The Icelandic quota system is considered to have contributed to the species’ survival and the profitability of the fish industry. But the number of fishing vessels has fallen sharply as fishing has concentrated on large companies, which have bought up individual fishermen’s rights. Small fishing communities have been de-populated and the quota system is being debated.

Mackerel conflict

In 2006, the mackerel suddenly went missing after disappearing from Icelandic waters for nearly two decades. Thereafter, Iceland unilaterally raised its catch rate of mackerel for several years in violation of EU and Norway’s requirements. In 2011, the increased income from mackerel was estimated to correspond to three percent of Iceland’s GDP growth. In protest against Iceland’s actions, the EU imposed sanctions on the country in 2012. From 2011, the mackerel conflict worsened the climate in the negotiations with the EU for Icelandic membership in the Union, where fishing rights were the major dispute. Iceland canceled EU negotiations in 2013 (see Current policy). Since then, Iceland has reduced its mackerel ratio, but the conflict over the country’s unilateral action persists.

Caring for one’s own fishing is one of the main reasons Icelanders have a cool attitude to the EU. Iceland’s per capita income from fishing is about a hundred times greater than the EU average. As an EU member, Iceland would become part of the Union’s common fisheries policy, where the national catch quotas are determined in joint negotiations when large fishing nations such as Spain and Italy are influential.

Fishing war and fishing stoppage

Iceland’s territorial waters cover an area seven times larger than the country’s surface, causing several so-called fishing wars. In 1952, Iceland expanded its fishing waters from four to twelve nautical miles from the coast (1 nautical mile equals 1.8 km) and was met by British protests. Twenty years later, the limit was increased to 50 nautical miles after a number of years of poor catches. This led to serious inter-zones between British trawlers and Icelandic coastguards, where vessels were hit. In 1975, Iceland expanded its fishing waters to 200 nautical miles. Following repeated incidents, in 1976 Iceland temporarily broke diplomatic relations with Britain, which later recognized the new frontier.

Iceland has also had serious disputes with Norway about cod fishing in the Barents Sea and the herring quotas in the Norwegian Sea. Iceland has also had fishing disputes with Denmark.

At the end of 2017, the fishing nations around the Arctic will end up stopping all commercial fishing in the Arctic waters for the time being. In line with global warming, fish stocks have decreased in size and fishing hours have begun to take new paths. During the stop, the nations will conduct joint research to find out more about the ecosystems in the area in order to eventually be able to resume fishing. The agreement includes Canada, the EU, China, Denmark (Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Iceland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Russia and the USA.

Contested election hunting

Icelandic whaling has ancient traditions, but it ceased in the late 1980s since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling. In protest against this, Iceland left the Commission in 1992. Despite the country reserving itself against the ban, Iceland was re-admitted as a member in 2002 with an overweight vote, after Sweden’s delegation mistakenly voted yes.

In 2003, Iceland began hunting for cetaceans “for research purposes” and in 2006, the country resumed commercial hunting for cetaceans and herring, which according to the government are not threatened with extinction in Icelandic waters. The decision was criticized internationally.

Shortly before the government crisis of 2009 (see Modern History), the outgoing Minister of Fisheries decided to increase catch quotas for cetaceans and herring whales over the next five years. The decision was met by international protests and the incoming left-wing government wanted to repeal it, but was threatened by a declaration of confidence by the opposition.

In 2011, the United States declared that Iceland’s violation of the ban on commercial whaling was unacceptable. Weak demand for whale meat in the tsunami-afflicted Japan contributed to Iceland ending commercial whaling in 2011 after it became unprofitable. In June 2013, however, it was resumed with a quota of 154 herring whales in the coming five-year period.

In February 2019, the government decided to continue hunting for another five years. By then, the state quotas for whaling had expired for the period 2013–2018. The government was divided on the issue of the hunt, but eventually set new five-year quotas of 209 herring and 217 folding whales. The decision was justified by the fact that the hunt takes place in a sustainable way and in line with scientific recommendations, something that a research report from the University of Iceland and a marine research institute had concluded.


Agriculture’s share of GDP

4.6 percent (2016)

Percentage of land used for agriculture

18.7 percent (2016)

  • Offers how the 3-letter acronym of ISL stands for the state of Iceland in geography.

Iceland Agriculture and Fishing