Published June 25, 2004


The capelin is a small insignificant fish nobody particularly likes to eat, except the Japanese, but is dried, ground and sold abroad as livestock feed. The capelin is not Iceland’s top export but still brings in about 6-7% of the total export revenues of the country. What should be more worrisome, though, is the fact that the capelin is the preferred diet of the cod, which is Iceland’s top export. The cod stock hasn’t shrunk in terms of number but the IMR found that each cod is leaner and smaller. The cod is simply hungry.

The scientists are telling people not to loose sleep over these changes even though the fish is paying for everything imported from cars to designer jeans. They point at the fact that the capelin stock has vanished before, in 1980 to be exact, but it did eventually return. Until it shows itself again, the Icelandic economy will simply have to live with loosing 11 billion ISK a year. The marine scientists seem to have managed to calm the Icelandic nation, and even though they have no idea where the capelin is, they have a fairly good idea why it decided to play hide and seek this year.

According to the IMR, the ocean surrounding Iceland is dramatically warmer then in previous years and the capelin apparently isn’t particularly happy with it. The temperature change is up to 5 degrees Celsius. For anybody who saw film The Day

After Tomorrow, this should seem a phenomenal change and certainly not a mere fluctuation. The president of the IMR, Jóhann Sigurjónsson, stresses that this does not have to mean that we have a catastrophe in the making and he will tell you that the sea has been this warm before, even though you have to go back almost 40 years to see a similar ocean climate. The scientists do not know why there is such an abundance of warm seawater flowing to the coasts of Iceland now; they will not rule out global warming but stress that there are always natural fluctuations.

Every Icelander is taught in school that the reason for the general wellbeing in this northern country is the Gulf Stream – the warm ocean current that flows from equatorial areas to the north. Without the warm current, Iceland would be almost, if not completely, uninhabitable. Also, the current is salty and mixes with colder and fresher currents close to the country, hence forming the ideal environment for the fish. So this warm current brings mild climate and money to the bank. Of course the good news is that the weather is better and that almost every month a temperature record is broken.

Maybe somebody should worry about the banks and the long-term effect of possible global warming which brings us back to The Day After Tomorrow. Some scientists think that global warming will at first warm up the northern hemisphere with pleasant benefits such as drinking coffee at a table outside the cafes in Reykjavik without being covered in thick blanket of snow. But then the warm climate will rapidly melt the artic ice (which it certainly has in recent years) and cold sea water will flow in abundance to the south. Now, pessimistic scientists predict this could lead to severe changes, such as disrupting the natural balance in ocean currents, such as driving back the Gulf stream and then… well then we would have a new Ice Age.

In that case, it would not be so pleasant to sip coffee at an outdoor cafe in Reykjavík (probably buried anyway under a mile thick ice) and Iceland would be at last true to its name.
So shouldn’t somebody be at least a little worried about the capelin?

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