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Arctic Northeast Atlantic

Greenland, Iceland, and Faroe Islands

About the Site


The continental shelf areas east of Greenland, and around Iceland and the Faroe Islands are home to diverse and productive ecosystems that play a central role in the national economies of the respective countries. They sit on a dynamic front between the cold Arctic Ocean current and the warmer Gulf current, and incorporate the meltwater from Greenland’s glaciers. In recent years, species have been observed to undergo distribution shifts both within the region (e.g., haddock in Iceland) and to the region (e.g. mackerel), providing a unique set of management challenges related to both the social and environmental aspects of the system.

Economy and Environmental Pressures

The Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland are closely interconnected through the economic structure of commercial fisheries, as they share ocean space, several commercially important fish stocks, a heavy economic dependence on commercial fishing, and concerns about the impact of climate change on the ocean environment.


However, contrasts can also be drawn among the three nations in terms of how the fishing industry has developed (for example, the vertical structure of the companies), how fisheries are governed (licences, quotas, bilateral agreements etc.), and how fisheries are tied to cultural and economic aspects of the societies. Under Marine SABRE these three countries represent one international research area, but the countries have fundamentally different geographical sizes. It is therefore important to consider the specific national contexts when working with the research sites. 

Our research in the Arctic-Northeast Atlantic focuses on commercial pelagic fisheries in three countries: the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. Companies based in the EU and Norway have similar operations in the same area, but are not included in our study.


Fisheries are one of the most important export sectors in this region. In recent years, the composition of these fisheries has changed: pelagic fisheries have become increasingly important compared to the demersal sector. Currently, Northeast Atlantic mackerel and herring are the two most valuable pelagic species. In the Faroe Islands, fish (from both fisheries and aquaculture) constitutes more than 90% of exported goods, while in Iceland, fish products account for roughly 40% of the total exports. Of those, pelagic fisheries represent 20 % of the value of total exported fish products. Pelagic fisheries are also growing in importance in Greenlandic waters. Faroese and Icelandic fishing companies are often closely connected with Greenlandic companies and/or provide employment opportunities for Greenlanders. 


Arctic NE Atlantic
#MarineSABRESpostcards from Iceland | Pamela Woods and Unn Laksá

#MarineSABRESpostcards from Iceland | Pamela Woods and Unn Laksá

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#MarineSABRESdoc Arctic Northeast Atlantic research site - trailer

#MarineSABRESdoc Arctic Northeast Atlantic research site - trailer

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Research Focus

The work in the Faroese-Iceland-Greenland research area will examine the effects of climate change and changing oceanographic conditions on ecosystem state, and the dynamic feedback loops of human systems in their capacity to respond to environmental change. We will use the Simple Ecological Systems approach to analyse management options in international pelagic fisheries. International pelagic fisheries (including mackerel, herring, capelin, and blue whiting) in the Northeast Atlantic and Arctic will be used as one of several demonstration areas to which the methodology will be applied. Stakeholders from the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Denmark will be invited to participate to design a system that delineates strengths and weakness of a system dependent on industrial fishing and vertically integrated companies that operate internationally, compete internationally, and yet depend on international cooperation for long-term sustainability and continued access to fisheries with shifting distributions. 

Concrete Actions

Scenarios will be designed to analyse motivations and identify opportunities for behavioural change that could strengthen sustainability or have other positive social impacts. This demonstration area contrasts greatly from other common implementations of tools used to implement ecosystem-based management in fisheries as it does not from the outset include quantitative ecological modeling nor a place-based approach, but instead has the potential to reveal drivers of competition, cooperation, and adaptation among large business operations.  

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