The Morality Of Exchange
||The vast majority of fishermen and
the Icelandic public seem to emphatically oppose the privatization
and commoditization of fishing rights entailed by ITQ management.
To their minds, fishing rights are still very much intertwined with
the symbolic notions of national sovereignty, personal autonomy
and equity. In a national survey in 1991 no less than 95% of those
who responded were against changing the common property nature of
the fisheries to this effect (24).
Another survey established that 60% of boat owners believed that
the buying and selling of ITQs was morally wrong (25).
As one boat owner, who was fiercely opposed to such transactions,
put it: 'If it is efficient to steal from one and sell to another,
then I reject such economic policy.... [i]t just will not do that
the common property of the nation, like the fishing grounds, are
being bought and sold by a few chosen individuals' (26).
||The issue of ownership is confused
by the fact that although ITQs are in effect the private property
of boat owners, they remain in name, according to the first clause
of the fisheries management legislation, the public property of
the nation. During debates on the fisheries laws enacted in 1990,
some members of Parliament raised doubts about the 'legality' of
the ITQ system, arguing that proposed privileges of access might
imply permanent, private ownership which contradicted some of the
basic tenets of Icelandic law regarding public access to resources.
Lawyers concluded that the kind of ITQ system under discussion in
Parliament was in full agreement with the law and that ITQs did
not represent permanent, private property (27,28).
The laws which eventually were passed reinforced such a conclusion
by stating quite categorically that the aim of the authorities was
not to establish private, government-protected ownership. It seems
clear, however, that boat owners have become de facto owners of
the fishing stocks. The Icelandic tax-authorities have decided,
one may note, that ITQs are to be reported as 'property' on tax-forms
and that the selling of ITQs involves a form of 'income'. Recently,
the Supreme Court resolved, in a case between a fishing company
and the Minister of Finance, that accumulated ITQs represented private
property liable to taxation. Thus, fishing rights in Iceland have
an anomalous status as ITQs -- a situation that has, perhaps, helped
to prolong the existence of the system in the face of firm opposition
to its fundamental principles.
||Nevertheless, many have begun to realise
the new private-property nature of fishing rights, particularly
with the increase in profit-oriented monetary exchange with ITQs.
Fishermen and small-scale boat owners are deeply concerned with
this aspect of the system, complaining that this was not the fisheries
management system that they consented to in 1984. Through a vigorous
public discourse that erects and affirms close moral boundaries
around permissible economic behaviour with ITQs fishermen attempt
to resist and contest profit-oriented exchange with fishing rights.
Boat owners who transgress these boundaries are labelled 'quota-profiteers'.
Frustrated fishermen look on as businessmen prosper from trading
these new fishing rights back and forth, picturing 'quota-kings'
spending hours in front of computer screens profiteering with ITQs.
One skipper, commenting on this situation, claimed: 'For the chosen
few who can lease quotas to others and buy more quotas for the profits,
[the quota system] is like a snowball effect . . . There is no stockbroker
in Reykjavík that can invest your money more effectively,
that is if you have any'. Such claims and direct industrial action
challenge the underlying morality of privatization advocated by
the Boat Owners' Union, administrators, and many economists, attempting
to return fishing rights back to a more traditional state.
||Many Icelanders are also wary of the
concentration of ITQs in the hands of the large vertically-integrated
companies and the emergence of the new relations of production associated
with fishing for others, using heavily loaded feudal metaphors to
describe this state of affairs. Voicing these concerns for fishermen
in general, the editor of the Icelandic fishermen's journal (Víkingur)
put it this way:
Before you know it the whole national fleet will be in the
hands of 10 to 15 individuals who will then also 'own' all the
fish in the waters around Iceland. Thus a new aristocracy will
have emerged, an aristocracy that decides where fishermen and
employees of the fishing plants will live, what they earn, and
what rights they are to have (29).
||In public discourse, the large firms
that have been accumulating ITQs are habitually referred to as 'quota-kings'
or 'lords of the sea'. Such explicit accounts of structural inequalities
in the Icelandic fishing industry represent a significant shift
from earlier discourses, which euphemistically projected structural
differences onto individual differences (3).
||These references to images of exploitation
and domination are further augmented by descriptions of ITQ leasing
associated with 'fishing for others' as a 'tenancy' system, where
the lessor 'quota-kings' are likened to medieval landlords and,
conversely, small-scale lessees become 'tenants' or 'serfs' (leiguliðar).
One skipper described the 'tenant' situation in the following way
during an interview:
they fish vigorously while fishing their own quotas, after
that they end up in the tenancy-system.... a system which gives
them no earnings; all the profit goes to those who own the quota,
||In the 'tenancy' system it is the
'quota-kings' who make the rules; not only do they own most of the
ITQs, they also control many of the plants that buy the catch. Thus,
quoting the same skipper again: 'one must give in to almost every
demand, because the quota-king makes all the rules, sets the price
and everything'. The 'quota-kings' themselves view the matter from
a totally different perspective, maintaining that most of the so-called
'lords of the sea' are really on the verge of bankruptcy and citing
envy as the source of the feudal metaphors.
|In January 1994 fishermen went on
a national strike, protesting against the ITQ system, especially
the effects of the so-called 'tenancy-system'. The leading slogan
they employed was 'No More Profiteering!' (Braskið burt!). To
many of them this was a battle aimed at getting rid of the ITQ system.
As it turned out, the strike resulted in a two-week stand-still
in the fishing industry. Ultimately, the strike was terminated by
temporary laws which forced fishermen back to work. Not content
with this turn of events, fishermen went on strike again in May
1995. This time an agreement was reached with boat owners involving
concessions on both sides.