A nation with fishing in its genes

A nation with fishing in its genes 

Fishing is an intrinsic part of Iceland's history and heritage. Since the country was first settled, Icelandic fishermen have braved the seas to bring home their catch. Fish was both an important source of food, and laid the foundation of our economy. Respect for the ocean and its gifts is deeply ingrained in our culture, and the responsible management of marine resources is of a fundamental importance to the nation.


The fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy. Marine products were historically the country’s lead export item. Responsible fisheries at the Icelandic fishing grounds are athe prerequisite for the Icelandic fishing industry continuing being a solid part of the Icelandic economy and a principal pillar in Iceland’s exports. Around 7,500 people work in fisheries and processing, approx. 3.9% of total workforce. Fishing along with fish processing accounted for 8.1% of the GDP in 2019. 

The fishing fleet and catches

According to FAO, Iceland was the 18th largest fishing nation in the world in 2017, fishing approximately 1.3% of the global catch that year, and the second largest in Europe.

The total allowable catch (TAC) is set for every fishing year (Sept-Aug) by the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, based on the recommendation from the Marine Research Institute (MRI). The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) also provides advice on many stocks.

There are 1,647 registered fishing vessels in Iceland.  The total catch in Icelandic waters was 1,020,594 tonnes in 2020. The catch was landed in 58 ports around the country. 

Export markets

The total exports of marine products in 2020 were 604,129 tonnes and accounted for 40% of the value of exported goods, worth 1,747 million EUR.

Icelandic marine products were exported to 95 countries in 2020, around 76% of the total were sold to Europe which is the most important market for Icelandic seafood. Frozen products account for 44.1% of the export value of marine exports. The single most valuable fish species for Icelandic seafood exports is cod which accounted for 49% of the export value of marine products in 2020. 

Read more about the history of fisheries in Iceland on Fisheries.is.