Comments by the Association of Coastal Property Owners on a bill to amend the Fisheries Management Act, No. 116/2006, with subsequent amendments. (Presented to the Althingi during its 137th legislative session, 2009).

Association of Coastal Property Owners

(Samtök eigenda sjávarjarða)

PO Box 90,

780 Hornafjörður

Office of the Althingi – Committees Division,

Fisheries Committee, Austurstræti 8-10,

150 Reykjavík.

Reykjavík, 11 June 2009.

Re:  Comments by the Association of Coastal Property Owners on a bill to amend the Fisheries Management Act, No. 116/2006, with subsequent amendments.  (Presented to the Althingi during its 137th legislative session, 2009).

I, the undersigned Chairman of the Association of Coastal Property Owners, refer to my conversation with Gautur Sturluson, Legal Advisor to the Committees Division and his e-mail to me dated 9 June 2009.

Introductory remarks:

The Association of Coastal Property Owners was founded on 5 July 2001 at a meeting held in Reykjavík, and has about 400 members.  More than 1,000 properties have registered rights of fishing from their shores. The total number of properties with shorelines is believed to be 2,240.

The Association’s aims are as follows:

  • To have coastal properties’ fishing rights recognized once again and confirmed in the Fisheries Management Act.
  • To strive for the recognition and respect of coastal properties’ rights within the net zone and also of their ownership share in marine resources as a whole.

The above aims have been publicised repeatedly since the foundation of the Association.

It is now clear that the Association’s aims have not received support in the traditional debates in the Althingi when the Fisheries Management Act has been under review.

A recent opinion delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in a case concerning a lumpfish fisherman stated:   “Moreover, the Court finds that the applicant´s right to engage in fishing in the net zone adjacent to the coastal property in question constituted a “possession” within the meaning of Article 1 of protocol No. 1.”  (underlining added by the undersigned).  The criminal case involved was a matter of private concern to the lumpfish fisherman and not that of coastal property owners as a whole.

Part of the marine resources, the ‘net zone’, is privately owned, according to the European Convention on Human Rights. The sea and marine fauna and flora are in motion between the net zone and the outer region, and thus marine resources constitute an undivided whole which is in motion. Coastal property owners are co-owners of marine resources, and are the owners of one of the most important part of these resources, i.e. the shallows closest to the land.

The Association of Coastal Property Owners is a large group with an interest in marine resources, in addition to which its aims constitute the largest and most wide-reaching issue in the sphere of regional employment and justice in recent years in Iceland.

The Association has a homepage, the URL of which is:          www.ses.is

Comments on the bill:

The definition of the net zone (Icelandic: netlög) given in the Icelandic law handbook Lögbókin þín by Björn Þ. Guðmundsson, Professor of Law, runs as follows:  “The net zone is a certain belt along the coast in the sea and lakes to which certain ownership rights are linked.  The net zone is considered as coming under the property rights of the owner → property”.  Reference is also made to the enclosed advertisement of 3 October 2003.  

This belt in the sea is defined in various ways. On the one hand, the net zone is defined as extending 115 metres out from the spring tide low-water mark where the coast shelves sharply; another definition is that the net zone extends out to a depth reached by a 20-mesh seal net, or out to where the depth reaches 7.45 metres off the spring tide low-water mark where there are more extensive shallows (these definitions are by Páll Vídalín, Lawman, 1667-1727).

As is stated in the Introductory Remarks above, seawater and marine fauna and flora move between the net zone and the outer region. There is no firm boundary between the two regions. Thus, marine resources are an undivided possession. In this context, reference may be made to migratory or straddling stocks which move between fisheries zones, the utilization of these stocks being a matter for negotiation.

Two marine biologists at the University of Iceland and the Marine Research Institute stated the following in an article which appeared in Morgunblaðið on 13 April 2008: “The shallows are a goldmine. It could be argued that the shallow marine region around Iceland is one of the nation’s most valuable resources.  It is the cradle of many commercially exploitable fish stocks, and it is from here that new generations of fish stream out to the fishing grounds. The rights of coastal properties, amongst other things, have been under discussion.” They went on to say: “The shallow waters around Iceland (shallower than 50 m) play an important role as the breeding grounds for our most important commercial fish species.” Other scientists have said the same sort of thing, e.g. Dr Veerle Vanderweerd, Coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, who stated in an interview in Morgunblaðið on 27 October 2000: “The defined coastal area is also the home of 90% of fish and molluscs”.  I refer to the interview with Dr Kenneth Sherman, Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Narragansett, Rhode Island, in Fréttablaðið on 31 January 2002, in which he said, amongst other things: “The ecosystem is independent of boundaries and economic zones.  He refers to coastal areas, from riverine systems to the edge of the continental shelf and the outer boundaries of the principal current systems. Two or more adjacent countries often share one and the same ecosystem.”  I refer to the sharing of straddling stocks.  I refer to an interview that appeared in Morgunblaðið  on 4 July 2005 with Dr Kathy Sullivan, the astronaut and explorer in the Explorers Club, in which she said:  “The coastal areas are very important for fishing and are important breeding grounds for fish. Environmental quality as a whole must take account of the state of coastal waters, which are the lungs and liver of the Earth.” Finally, I wish to mention in this connection two programmes by Dr David Attenborough shown on Icelandic National Television under the title “Hafið bláa hafið” [The Sea, the Blue Sea], on 16 and 23 November 2003.  Episodes 7 and 8 dealt with coastal waters, which it can be said are often called the ‘net zone’ [Icelandic: netlög] in Iceland . These programmes explained clearly how important the net zone is, how rich the fauna and flora are in coastal waters and how important they are for life further out at sea.

Territorial waters are defined from the coast; consequently, the net zone lies within Iceland’s territorial waters and within its economic zone.

It is now clear that the European Court of Human Rights regards the net zone as a possession in the sense of Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Consequently, the Althingi can no longer ignore this right of possession, and is obliged to respect it. 

The Althingi does not have a brief or the authority to dispose of these rights pertaining to the coastal properties.  The Althingi is obliged to obey the laws that it itself has set, including the property provisions of the Constitution and other laws relating to the net zone.

A bill has been presented under the title of ‘Bill on Coastal Fishing’.  The coastline and the net zone running along it is in private ownership in many places.  Coastal property owners are of the opinion that the Althingi cannot pass fisheries management legislation covering coastal fishing and the disposal of these resources without involving the co-owners of the resource in consultation.  To act otherwise would be an extraordinary act of arrogance that would be to the discredit of the Althingi.

As the co-owners of the undivided marine resources, the coastal property owners demand that they be consulted on the question of legislation relating to the marine resources, and particularly involving legislation on coastal fishing.

I should like to request a meeting with the Althingi’s Fisheries Committee as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

on behalf of the

Association of Coastal Property Owners,

______________________________

Ómar Antonsson, Chairman.

The following enclosures are submitted for your information:

  1. Auglýsing, dags. 3. október 2003 er skilgreinir rétt og eign sjávarjarða í auðlindinni samkvæmt íslenskum lögum. [Advertisement, dated 3 October 2003, defining the rights and ownership of coastal properties in the marine resources under Icelandic law.]
  2. Letter dated 7 November 2002 to Dr Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries of the European Commission.
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