Through the centuries, Iceland's geographical location has meant that the nation has to a large extent been dependent on the riches of its aquatic environment. With large areas of the country ill-suited for agriculture, livelihood was largely based on fishing.

Intricately woven into Iceland‘s culture and heritage, fishing later became the key force in the country‘s modern economy and drove the nation‘s rise from one of Europe‘s poorest countries around 1800 to one of the world‘s wealthiest at the beginning of the 21st century.

Three key periods

The history of the Icelandic fisheries can be divided into three key periods. While they overlap, they can basically be categorized as the Age of the rowing boat, the Age of the sail and finally the Age of motorized vessels. Of the three, the Age of the rowing boats lasted more than 1000 years into the late 1920s. Sailing vessels became prominent around 1800 but eventually both the oars and the sails gave way to motorized vessels in the 1920s.

The first Icelandic motorized fishing vessel, basically a six-oaring equipped with a small engine, was used in 1902. Motorization caught on fast. Decked vessels soon followed suit and by 1905 Iceland had acquired its first steam-trawler. Two decades later, some 47 steam-trawlers were operated around Iceland.

Steel replaces wood

Following World War II, a new generation of trawlers, longliners and gillnetters replaced the ageing steam-trawlers. Trawlers apart, new vessels after the Second World War were initially built of wood but later replaced by steel. Sidewinding trawlers were replaced by stern-trawlers during the 1970s and 80s.

During the last decades the Icelandic fleet has undergone some major changes. Mainly driven by the sheer need to adapt to new and more efficient technologies, these changes have simultaneously addressed a change in market demand for products.