Something odd has happened to Iceland’s fisheries. In Icelandic waters, cod numbers have hit a historic high. But rather than taking advantage of this bountiful fishing opportunity, the annual catch has decreased by 45 percent since 1981. Over the same period, the total export value of Icelandic cod products has increased by more than 100 percent. The cause of this peculiar and seemingly contradictory trend is partly explained by Iceland’s Ocean Cluster House or what is commonly referred to as the “Silicon Valley of White Fish.”
Overlooking Reykjavik’s harbor, Ocean Cluster House is home to 120 new marine start-ups, all of which are focused on “100 percent fish utilization.” In other words, they are businesses developing ideas that use fish meat, oil, skin, bones and intestines, to draw value out of produce that would otherwise be trashed. “From one cod we can maybe get $12 for the fillet. But if we use the whole round we can get $3,500 for each cod,” explains Ocean Cluster’s founder, Thor Sigfusson. The “value-added approach challenges the notion that a fish’s primary purpose is a fillet,” he notes.
Sigfusson objects to those who believe that “fisheries around the world need more fish to catch.” Instead, he argues that fishermen must reduce waste by utilizing the 55 to 60 percent of the fish that currently remains unused. Thanks to human ingenuity “you can do more with less,” Sigfusson explains. Here are just some of the innovative ideas that are revolutionizing the Icelandic fishing industry and proving human ingenuity can add value to previously unutilized materials and processes:
Ocean Cluster House has begun to spread these efficiency-enhancing practices globally and has its eyes on North American markets, where it is currently estimated that between 40 percent and 47 percent of edible seafood is wasted. Iceland now utilizes 80 percent of each cod that is caught.
Change seen in the Icelandic fishing industry is just one example of the pioneering ways that human ingenuity can create more jobs and add greater value while using fewer or previously unutilized resources. As humanity becomes more educated, interconnected and innovative, other sectors are likely to undergo similar changes, making all of our lives more prosperous.
Alexander C. R. Hammond is a researcher at a Washington DC think tank.