/ Information Technology in the Icelandic Fishery

How does one go from viewing fish and other marine wildlife as an entity beyond human control, a “gift from God,” to an entity that is a statistical certainty to be manipulated, modeled and managed? In this ethnographic work we examine how new forms of IT in the Icelandic fishery are implicit in changes in attitudes and general understanding of what it means to rely on a natural resource as a livelihood. Through this work we have come to understand that collapses in fish stocks and attempts to regulate fishing in response are not simply problems for economic modeling and “big data” simulations but also major challenges in the cultural sustainability of fishing as a practice. In 1975, the Icelandic Marine Research Institute published a report warning of dire consequences to the sustainability of the North Atlantic Cod Stock if nothing would be done in terms of catch limitation. While the validity of this report was hotly debated by different parties in the fishery at the time, its findings were used as political leverage in international negotiations regarding the Icelandic government’s goal to gain exclusive economic control of the Icelandic fishing waters. Up until this point, the concepts of overfishing or environmental sustainability had been absent in the discourse regarding the fishery. By looking at a series of attempts to limit access and catch amount, we examine how the Icelandic fishing grounds became a problem to be solved and managed, as opposed to a natural resource to be relied upon.

Participants: Hrönn Brynjarsdóttir Holmer, Phoebe Sengers