Invertebrates

Invertebrates

A few species of invertebrates have been harvested in Icelandic waters albeit of considerably less importance than traditional fisheries. As for crustaceans northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) is the most important species, followed by nephrops (Norway lobster). Crab fisheries have not been a success but that might be changing with new species appearing in the Icelandic ecosystem

Apart from scallop, whelk and ocean quahog many different species of molluscs are found in Icelandic waters. However, few are large or abundant enough to sustain harvesting. Several cephalopod species also have habitats deep off the Icelandic coast but harvesting has been limited.

Two species of echinoderms have been harvested, the green sea urchin and the sea cucumber.

Northern shrimp

The northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) is a sub-arctic species, widespread in the northern parts of the North Atlantic. Predominantly found off the north coast of Iceland at depth below 300 metres, high concentrations have been found in shallower inshore waters.

The shrimp has a remarkable life cycle. A male once it reaches maturity, it subsequently changes gender. The only commercially harvested shrimp species in Iceland, the northern shrimp varies in size as the offshore individuals are larger than those caught inshore.

At the peak in the mid-1990s shrimp was annually caught in excess of 70,000 tonnes. A dramatic decline followed as certain fish stocks increasingly migrated to northern waters. In 2006, the total catch was down to less than 1,000 tonnes but the stock has somewhat recovered and catches in 2013 were a total of 10,400 tonnes. The bulk of the catch is exported to the UK.

Nephrops (lobster)

The most valuable catch from Icelandic waters per weight unit, the nephrops (Nephrops norvegicus) is predominantly found off Iceland's southern coastline. The mobility of the males on the seabed is reflected in in their majority in the catch. Small in comparison to other similar species, the male nephrops is 20 to 25 cm in size when fully grown. Females rarely exceed 18 cm.

Primarily harvested during the short summer period, large-scale nephrops fisheries commenced in the late 1950s. During the last 25 years catch figures have ranged from 1,000 tonnes up to about 2,500 tonnes. In 2013, the total catch was 1,700 tonnes. More than half of the catch goes to Spain.

Molluscs

Common in domestic waters, the Iceland scallop (Chlamys islandica) is most concentrated off the west coast.  Successfully harvested with seabed-dredges for over three decades, the scallop fisheries reached a pinnacle in the mid-1980s as catch figures exceeded 17,000 tonnes. In 2004 the stock collapsed due to a disease caused by parasite. While there are some signs of recovery, the stock is still deemed unfit for harvesting.

The blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) is widely distributed all around Iceland but confined to the shore or shallow waters.  Harvested to an extent for local consumption or for bait, successful experiments have been conducted in recent years on blue mussel mariculture.

The ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) is large bivalve that can reach a height of up to 10 cm and an age of up to 400 years. With the species abundant all around the island, harvesting fisheries commenced in the late 1980s and yielded up to 14,400 tonnes at the peak. Curtailed in 2005 by unfavourable market conditions, these fisheries have since been non-existent

A large sized snail found all around Iceland, the common whelk (Buccinum undatum) can reach up to 15 cm height. It is only harvested in in the west of Iceland. Catches reached a peak of 1,300 tonnes in 1997 but following a few average years, catches in 2013 only amounted to 90 tonnes.