The Iceland Ocean Cluster’s mission is to create value and discover new opportunities by connecting entrepreneurs, businesses and knowledge in the marine industries.

Introducing “The Incredible Fish Value Machine”

Written by Thor Sigfusson, founder of the Iceland Ocean Cluster

The following drawing is inspired by the “The Incredible Bread Machine”, a text written by R.W Grant in 1966. The book had an accompanying poem entitled “Tom Smith and His Incredible Bread Machine”. The Tom Smith poem is about a man who invents a machine for producing bread very cheaply, and thus the world is fed.


“The Incredible Fish Value Machine” displays how Icelanders have produced “an industry fishing machine” which takes pride in the fact that no other whitefish nation is utilising more of each fish than Icelanders. While in typical North Atlantic fisheries the head, gut and bones of every cod are discarded, in Icelandic fisheries we have become used to making money out of many of these by-products. Analysis done by the Iceland Ocean Cluster indicates that Icelanders utilise 80%+ of each cod while many neighbouring countries make full use of only around 50%. The study indicates over 500 thousand tonnes of cod are discarded into the sea or as waste in the Barents Sea region and across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Norway.

There is no single explanation for this huge difference in utilisation. Partly it may be explained by the fact that unlike the year-round long fishery in Iceland, many fishing nations have short fishing seasons with massive amounts landed over a few months, making it difficult to process such raw material efficiently. Secondly, the integration between fishing and processing in Iceland through common ownership is not usually the case among other seafood nations. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the seafood industry is often located in marginalized places and is not in touch with R&D, investors, accelarators etc. Steve Case writes in “The Third Wave”: “Over the next two decades we will see cities that were once marginalized become entrepreneurial powerhouses”. Case points out that “there is appeal to putting down roots where industry ecosystems already exist”. But even in areas where R&D, Universities and investors are close to the seafood eco system we still do not see all the dots connecting. This lack of ties is probably the most important reason why so much seafood protein is used for landfill in many countries. The key to creating the “incredible fish value machine” is to build the bridge between these important parts of the seafood cluster.

I am confident that it is only a matter of time when fisheries will stop discarding out value and more people join the 100% movement. As more companies join the by-product market and the market develops further, the prices will continue to increase and the incentives for fisheries to get value from their by-products are also set to increases.

Icelanders have long taken pride in their efficient fisheries. There is no one explanation for why Icelandic fisheries have for the most part been more efficient than others. I believe there is, as is often the case, a very pragmatic explanation: Icelanders have never had the luxury of treating their fisheries lightly. As the core industry in Iceland it cannot be government subsidised. The entire cluster of seafood businesses in Iceland has, for a long time, been at the heart of the income tax base for government and not the other way around. The same applies to a great extent when examining Icelandic fish by-products; if there is value to be found in by-products, effective fisheries used to focusing on value will find opportunities to use them.

The Incredible Fish Value Machine is not hypothetical. It is very real. The Icelandic model has proved reliable and this model can be duplicated in seafood industries all around; creating new opportunities in coastal areas.

Fletcher School, Iceland Ocean Cluster Collaborate on Panel at Arctic Circle 2016

Arctic Circle Assembly 2016The Fletcher School at Tufts University and Iceland Ocean Cluster House are organizing a panel at this year’s Arctic Circle Assembly about recent advances in Blue Technology (BlueTech).

Entitled “BlueTech Innovation for a Developing Arctic,” the panel promises to bring BlueTech leaders from across the public sector, private sector, and academia.

“It is my pleasure to expand cooperation between the Fletcher School and the Iceland Ocean Cluster House,” said Professor Rockford Weitz, Director of the Fletcher School’s Maritime Studies Program and chair of the panel. “The common challenges that face us in the maritime domain are only going to get more dire as time goes by. We could not ask for a better partner in this endeavor than the Iceland Ocean Cluster.”

The Iceland Ocean Cluster House was quick to return the praise. “We are proud of our collaboration between the Ocean Cluster and the Fletcher School,” said Thor Sigfusson, Founder of the House. “Commercial BlueTech developments only come from effective partnership between practitioners and academic institutions. This panel will be an excellent opportunity for the world’s leading BlueTech experts to discuss how these developments can apply in the Arctic.”

Beyond the Fletcher School and Iceland Ocean Cluster House, the BlueTech panel will also feature representatives from other BlueTech organizations. These include the Institute for Global Maritime Studies, an education non-profit that seeks practical solutions to global maritime challenges, the Iceland School of Energy at Reykjavik University, and Blue Water Metrics Inc, a scientific non-profit that crowdsources ocean health data.


1% of the Global Catch but 6% of the Global Certified MSC Catch

Ocean Cluster Analysis June 2016 by Jack Whitacre and Haukur Gestsson

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Iceland: A Global Leader in Sustainable Fishing

While Iceland contributes around 1% of fish to the global stock, in 2014 it contributed 6% of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fish (ISF, 2016). Iceland has thus been a prime contributor to the United Nations 2020 Sustainable Development Goal to reduce destructive fishing practices and to produce maximum sustainable yield. Domestically, 50% of Iceland’s 2014 catch (1.1 million tons) was sustainably certified (ISF, 2016).


While there are nearly 30 eco-labels for fish products, MSC is the most dominant and rapidly expanding label (Bush, 2013). The MSC certification emphasizes stock status, eco effects of fishing, and management systems. In 1996, excessive fishing drove species like Canada’s Atlantic Cod to commercial extinction. In response, the MSC launched a market driven approach to change behavior in buyers. Because of MSC insistence on objective and transparent scientific assessment, it was the first organization in the world to fulfill the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ eco-label guidelines for seafood products.

Possible Certifications

In 2014, Iceland contributed 550,000 tons (or 6%) to the global sustainably certified catch (ISF, 2016). The Iceland Sustainable Fisheries (ISF), which works to secure MSC certification for Iceland, hypothesizes that with the additional certification other species like Capelin, Mackerel, and Blue Whiting Iceland could contribute an even larger percentage to the sustainably certified catch.


The Atlantic Mackerel

The Atlantic Mackerel first appeared in Iceland in the 21st century. It can live up to 20 years in the wild.


If Iceland’s Capelin was sustainably certified, Iceland’s contribution to the global sustainably certified catch could grow to 8% (ISF, 2016). In 2014, Iceland caught roughly 112,000 tons of Capelin –however, the Capelin catch varies widely each season, in 2013, for example, Iceland landed 453,000 tons of Capelin (ISF 2016).

Two other species in Iceland that could receive sustainably certification are Mackerel and Blue Whiting. In 2014, Iceland caught 150,000 tons of Mackerel and 170,000 tons of Blue Whiting (ISF, 2016). Again, the tonnage varies by season. As evidence, Iceland has landed up to 320,000 tons of Blue Whiting in a single season (ISF, 2016). If Iceland receives certification for its Capelin, Mackerel, and Blue Whiting, then it may be able to make an even larger contribution to the global certified catch, upwards of 8%.

The Capelin is more slender than the Smelt. From above its color is a transparent olive or bottle green. A delicious little fish on the table, wrote 18th century naturalists. (GMA)

The Capelin is more slender than the Smelt. From above its color is a transparent olive or bottle green. A delicious little fish on the table, wrote 18th century naturalists.


Environmental Effects of MSC Certification

The volume of global wild seafood catch that is sustainably certified has almost doubled from 2010 to 2015 (MSC, 2016). A 2012 study found that the biomass of certified stocks “increased by 46% over the past 10 years, whereas uncertified fisheries increased by just 9%” (Gutierrez, 2012). Consequently, Iceland’s emphasis on certification may have increased biomass and reduce excessive and harmful fishing pressures.

Economic Effects of MSC Certification

Researchers in 2011 found a price premium for eco-labeled products, reaching 14.2% in some markets (Roheim, 2011). There is a growing consensus on the importance of certification. Large companies like Ikea and Edeka will only buy sustainably certified fish. As early as 2007, the entire country of Netherlands announced a goal for 100% of its seafood products to be MSC certified (MSC, 2007). As shown internationally, the MSC certification builds trust and carries significant economic weight.

Future Fisheries

While MSC certification may be an administrative and financial burden for small scale and developing world, it has brought significant environmental and economic benefits worldwide (Bush, 2013). According to the United Nations, over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihood worldwide (UN, 2015). In the last decade the global per-capita supply of fish as human food has reached an all time high (FAO, 2010). Moving forward Iceland hopes to become an even larger contributor to the sustainably certified global catch. Through the coordinated efforts of Icelandic fisheries and the MSC, the global seafood economy can hopefully maintain sustainable and profitable fisheries for generations to come.

For more information, contact Jack Whitacre or Haukur Gestsson.

Click here for a PDF version of this analysis.

Five-year anniversary of the Iceland Ocean Cluster

I am beyond excited to announce that today we celebrate the five-year anniversary of the Iceland Ocean Cluster (IOC). On May 30th 2011, the founding of IOC was formally announced.

Five years later, the thriving cluster continues to grow, representing client partners of all sizes in ocean related industries in Iceland. We are recognized as being an important accelerator in Iceland’s largest industry in terms of value added. Our Ocean Cluster House started with 10 companies in 2012 with a staff of 30. Today the Ocean Cluster House has 64 companies with a staff of close to 170 people.

Words cannot begin to describe the immense pride we have for the different teams of partner businesses and entrepreneurs who have launched over 30 projects and start-up companies which many are already thriving businesses. The initiated companies range from start-ups in biotechnology and full utilization of seafood products to companies offering new technology solutions for seafood processing.

Our mission: To use the clustering approach to challenge entrepreneurs and companies to link up and create value.

We are looking forward to continuing to be a world leading cluster and accelerator in seafood. We encourage you to follow the future of our journey on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn

– Thor Sigfusson, Founder and CEO



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