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The Fish of Iceland

Previously, we talked about how instrumental fishing was in Iceland and how Iceland successfully made the transition from struggle to wealth through fishing. This transition mostly centred around Herring (as you can read all about here!), but this begs a further question: what other sort of fish can be found in Icelandic waters?

Today, we want to tell you a little bit about them: think of it as a fish shopping guide to Iceland! There are quite a few; You might even be able to catch one yourself if you’re lucky (and patient) enough!

Atlantic Cod
Cod, (Þorskur in Icelandic), is famous the world over and shipped out to just about everywhere, Iceland has some of the finest cod going, and everybody wants it.

Although overall as species cod is considered “vulnerable” by the International Conservation Union (IUCN), cod is plentiful in Iceland thanks to rigorously managed fish stocks through the fishing quota system which limits the total amount that it is allowed to fish. Then permits are issued for a specified tonnage (we’ll discuss that in another article).

When you first see a codfish, you might also be struck by just how big they are! They average between 61 cm (24 inches) and 4 ft (1.2 m) long, and weighs 40 kg (88 lb.), but the largest ever recorded was was 1.8 m (6 feet) long and weighed 96 kg (211 lb.)!

Haddock, (Ýsa in Icelandic) is quite a lot smaller than cod, 38 and 69 cm (15 and 27 in) in length and 0.9 and 1.8 kg (2.0 and 4.0 lb.) in weight. Haddock is also a fish that is threatened by mismanagement and overfishing in many parts of the North Atlantic, but not in Iceland.

It is an essential part of the Icelandic diet, used in many ways but one of the main methods of preparation is the hang and dry the Haddock to produce “harðfiskur”, the Icelandic dried fish (commonly, but not always Haddock) fillets. This is a must try if you want to experience traditional Icelandic food – he highly recommend giving it a go with a bit of Icelandic butter.

Plaice (Skarkoli in Icelandic) is a common flatfish that lives on the sandy bottom of the seabed. Their maximum recorded length is 100 cm (39.4”), and get to a maximum age of about 50 years. They move into shallow waters to feed at night, but are normally found at a depth of 200 meters, so its very unlikely you’ll be pulling one out during your sea angling trip in Iceland!

Its a fish. Its red. So they called it Redfish (Karfi in icelandic). Original, right? It is actually a name given to many different species of fish – they just all look so similar that distinguishing between them is difficult. Redfish is a demersal fish with an attractive colour and it is very tasty. Able to grow up to 1 metre and can weigh up to 15 kgs (33 lb.) – they are also a slow-growing fish and can live for many decades. The Golden Redfish (as in the photo above) is the most common species around Iceland and it actually is one of the most common fish in the Icelandic waters. 

Named after its menacing fang-like teeth, the wolffish (Steinbítur in Icelandic, translating to “stone biter”) actually has many names: seawolf, devil fish and wolf eel. Wolffish are remarkable in that they produce a “natural antifreeze” to keep their bodies warm in the natural habitats. They’re most distinguishing feature is its very strong teeth structure – giving it a very striking look. Wolffish is popular food in Iceland and often used to make “harðfiskur”.

What are the rules for fishing in Iceland?
The economic and social disasters caused by overfishing are now very well known. Therefore, lawmakers and landowners in Iceland have taken decisive measures to limit the amount of fishing taking place, so that it never happens again.

  • Salmon fishing in salt water is forbidden.
  • All fishing rights belong to the riparian owners.
  • Net fishing for salmon is illegal from Friday night until Tuesday morning. Net fishing is being phased out altogether, everywhere. This serves to limit the scale of the fishing so you can’t catch too many.
  • Rod fishing is only legal for 12 hours each day.
  • Net fishing and rod fishing for salmon may never be carried out on the same stretch of water at the same time.
  • A fishery association (river association, like a small union) must be established for every fishing water in Iceland. Its main purpose is to enhance the fishing stocks in its waters and to maximize profit of the fishing. These associations manage its rivers or lakes as a unit, and offer fishing rights and licenses to individuals or groups.

Catch a fish in Iceland, and eat it too!
Do you want a fun, stress-free activity that brings in a free meal? Yes? In that case, fishing might be for you!  There is the huge cultural significance of fishing in Iceland, and there are few better ways to understand how it was (and in many ways is) to be an Icelander!

If you’re a casual fisher, you can rent a rod from around the harbour in the centre of Reykjavik and fish for the shore, or you can get out on a boat and do some fishing out to sea. Getting out on a boat is much more scenic, getting you out to more remote spots.

After you’ve caught your fish, you can then eat it! Many of of the sea angling tours will have you cooking the very fish that you line caught along with the rest of the group, either over a fire or on a bbq! You can also barbecue your catch after the tour, and you can even take it to restaurant MAR, where the chefs will cook it up for you, just right. Equally, you can also take it home and prepare it yourself.

You can go fishing almost anywhere in Iceland, and it’s a super easy add-on your Icelandic adventure – here you can find a selection of sea angling tours. Good luck, we hope the fish bite!


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