“My whole life IS about fish”
Arthur Bogason is a fisherman, Chairman of the Icelandic National Association of Small Boat Owners.
I think I became a fisherman because my first memory, my very first one, is of myself looking to a beautiful fish swimming in the ocean. I have always been amazed by the power, beauty and at the same time ugliness of the ocean.
I became a professional fisherman at 25 years old. I am now 56, but since 1995 I work also as a chairman. In 1995 in Island, a big dispute about fishery management started, and I wanted do something. So, I put together an association of small boat tenders and represent them. Now this is my main occupation.
Well, it’s pretty easy and natural to combine personal and professional life when you have such a strong passion for your work -there is no division line. As a matter of fact, during my spare time, I read books about fisheries, plus I go sport fishing during summer. I am also a salmon fly fisherman and the president of a club for sport fisheries. As you can see, even though my main occupation is now being the chairman of the association, I have never given up fishing. I just changed my license to professional sport fisherman for summer.
My whole life IS about fish – nothing else gives me more satisfaction. As for the rest, the issue of the environmental impact of fisheries was really strong inside the association I manage. In addition, I became involved more and more in sustainability by joining the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WWF) in 1997. Finally, in 1999, I became a member of the Responsible Fishing Alliance, which was created in order to coordinate North Atlantic fishermen’s efforts and work. My relation with the eco-system is of an engaged and concern active person.
My daily routine today is that of an office worker: I answer phone calls, emails, I have meetings, write website articles etc. This is for most of the year, but summer is different. When I go fishing, I get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and I am out at 5 or 6, spending about 10 or 12 hours on the sea. Nothing gives me more pleasure, but then again, the most rewarding thing for me now is surely the results I obtain by being a chairman in making a better life and a better condition for local fishermen. That’s it. I am not sacrificing anything, it’s a personal choice and I am happy with fishing in summer.
I fish using a jigging machine connected through a monofilament to the sinker. The sinker has a sensor, which sends data to and is controlled by a computer on the boat. When a fish catches the sinker, the sensor feels its presence and comes automatically up by itself. I can even decide how many fishes to catch before having the sinker coming up, all just by programming the computer. As for the quality of my fishing, as well as that of all the fishermen in the association, I can say that we all take the best care of fish. We clean and cool it, and it’s always very fresh. It’s all about combining very old knowledge and methods with the most advanced equipment, and there is nothing wrong with it. About sustainability, I have to say that I don’t like this word so much. I think that there is a big problem of lack of knowledge and missed information around the world of fishing. I would ban the word “sustainability” in combination with “fisheries”, for one reason: it is misleading. I would rather use “responsible” fisheries, meaning a responsible choice of the gear, and the adoption of a small and less oil-consuming boat. I also mean socially responsible -creating jobs and employment in the local community.
Small fishermen are an important part of the culture of my community, but tradition is a tricky word and has no common definition everywhere, and the same is for what small scale fisheries mean. I think that the role and the features of small-scale fisheries should be defined in each country according to their tradition in that place and in that community.
The fishermen in the association sell almost all their fish to the auction market. Then, whoever buys the fish makes sure that it is quickly distributed to markets and restaurants in Europe and North America. Fish is usually filleted fresh, then chilled and boarded on planes. In those markets, you can definitely have the best price for your fish, and today, this is very important to stay in the business.
The main difference between small scale fishing over industrial is that the first is more involved with social aspects such as small costal communities, while the second, on the contrary, change the social structure and create social problems such as unemployment and alcoholism. Plus, small fishermen just don’t even know what being unsustainable mean, for them being responsible is just a natural way of acting. This is what made me choose artisan fishing -common values and points of view.
There are many problems and the ocean situation is quite depressing but I am a strong believer in human race. I am optimistic and I am sure that we all will figure out a way to harvest and preserve at the same time. The quality of food, as well as that of education, has improved constantly throughout history. I am convinced that the future is going to be good. We all want the best for our kids. My own goal in life is to do the best I can to offer knowledge and skill to whoever wants them, all in the name of better practices. I am just part of the team.