Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vendsyssel's Hell's Angels

Yup, that’s right – there are bikers in Denmark. When most people think of biking in Denmark, they think of stately Scandinavians in business dress and pea coats peddling their way to work through the streets of Copenhagen. And while bicycles are indeed ubiquitous here – Copenhagen apparently has the highest rate of bicycle use per capita of any city in Europe and there are spaces for bicycles on all the trains – the kind of bikers I’m talking about are the real biker dude type that you imagine zooming around highways in the good ol’ American west. I heard my first story about the Danish Hell’s Angels a couple weeks ago as an explanation of the rather rough fishing crowd in Hirtshals – apparently the bikers, who came up north for the weekend, got in a fight with the locals that ended with the fishermen throwing their motorcycles in the harbor. But yesterday I got my first chance to see the bikers for myself.

I’ve been doing some biking of my own, in the more quaint and traditional Danish style – good for grocery shopping, but also for exploring the area a little beyond the distance I can go just walking.

Yesterday I went for a bike ride in the forest behind the North Sea Center with one of the researchers at IFM. It’s a really nice place for biking – it’s a production forest for the timber industry here, so it’s a much larger forest than you’d expect to find most places in a small country like this (particularly a country with an extensive maritime history, which pretty much means extensive deforestation until they stopped building wooden ships) and there are a lot of paths through the woods ranging from paved roads to dirt paths for biking and walking and horseback riding. It was a pretty day – sunny weather, and just about the peak of the autumn colors in the trees here – and we biked about 45 minutes out to a sightseeing tower in the forest. From the top, you can see across the top of the forest and over the dunes to the North Sea.

Even if the bike ride hadn’t been enjoyable in and of itself, I think the view might have been worth it.

And then, while looking out over the quiet scene of rural Denmark, there was a strange sight on the beach: slowly, the white sand was filling up with little black dots rapidly moving in our direction. No, not ants in strange perspective (though they did look a bit like a swarm of ants), it was a giant group of motorcyclists. First just a few, but soon ten, twenty, thirty, maybe even more. They zoomed around the beach for a few minutes and then (upon realizing that even tough motorcycles couldn’t ford the river that emptied into the sea just down the beach) headed back to the road. But rather than disappearing into the distance, the hum of revving engines grew louder, and we realized that the flock of bikers was heading towards us. And sure enough, they came right towards us along the same path we had taken, a pack of thirty motorcyclists on the dirt road heading through the forest

It was very surreal. They may be Hell’s Angels (no way to really tell what group they were with), but I never expected to find a biker pack heading down the dirt paths of the forested Danish countryside.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Talkin' Politics

On Wednesday, Denmark’s prime minister announced that the national elections will be held in a few weeks on November 13 – a full fifteen months ahead of the “deadline” for the election to be held. Like most democratic governments outside the US, Denmark has a parliamentary system, and so, like in most parliamentary systems, the government is run by a coalition between multiple parties. Although I certainly haven’t had the chance to learn much of the intricacies of Danish politics, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about one of the parties that has managed to exert a considerable influence in Danish politics by playing a key role in the current coalition government – the Danish People’s Party (DPP), which is described in the press as “right-wing” but has been described to me by people here as an anti-immigration (or, depending on who I talk to, racist) populist party. Despite the current shortage of workers in Denmark that would actually make it useful to allow immigrants and increase the country’s workforce, they have been fairly successful in pushing through immigration restrictions over the past few years. In retrospect I realize this is probably largely responsible for the difficulties I found in trying to get my visa to come here, for the stories I heard about Canadian students studying abroad here having difficulties obtaining student visas and even difficulties in allowing a Danish citizen to bring his fiancée to the country, for the full waiting room spilling out into the streets when I went to pick up my visa in Copenhagen when I first got to Denmark.

Also, long overdue, here is a picture of my hard-won visa, now happily affixed to my passport.
I can’t help but wonder, though…would I have been able to come here if I had been from the somewhere other than the US?

The DPP’s main platform is for reducing immigration, in particular from non-Western countries, along with nationalist policies such as maintaining Danish sovereign powers within the EU and preserving national institutions like the monarchy and the constitution and the Church. It’s probably over-exaggerating, but it sounds uncomfortably similar to the National Socialist German Workers Party (yes, the Nazis). Of course as a foreigner with little knowledge or understanding of Danish politics, I try not to judge too soon, but the party’s most recent move is particularly and disgustingly upsetting. Most people probably still remember the controversy two years ago over the Muhammad cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper which ultimately led to so much negative feeling in the Muslim world that the Danish embassy and consulate in Damascus and Beirut were burned. Well, it turns out that this whole crisis helped the DPP gain a lot more support in Denmark, and as such, they have decided to use a cartoon drawing of Muhammad (generally considered offensive to Muslims since Islam prohibits depictions of the prophet) in their campaign ads for the upcoming election along with the slogan “Freedom of speech is Danish, censorship is not,” followed with the claim “We defend Danish values”. (You can read more about this here.) I’m used to thinking of Denmark as a fairly liberal, open-minded country, but the kind of blatant intolerance that would lead the third-largest political party in the country to try to gain support by showing their pride in disrespecting the religion of not only a large population of the world but also a group of the country’s own citizens is sickening. And not just sickening – it’s disturbing and downright scary. One Muslim woman also running for election has come up with a clever counter-ad showing a drawing of the DPP’s leader with a slogan saying “Freedom of speech is Danish, stupidity is not.” I sure hope she’s right. I’m plenty used to living in conservative places where I disagree with most of my neighbors’ political opinions, but it’s depressing to think that here in Hirtshals particularly, the DPP has a large following.

Spurred partially by this recent turn of events here, I’ve been thinking a lot about politics and political differences between countries over the past couple of days. In many ways, Denmark seems much more liberal than the US because of its Scandinavian socialist model. Within a week of arriving in Hirtshals and registering myself at the local government office, I had already received a mailing with this:

My Danish health card. Yup, the government of Denmark, where I am living for a mere 110 days, has offered me more comprehensive health care coverage than has ever been provided to me by the government of my own home country where I have lived for twenty years. (Yes, they did spell my name wrong, but it's still better than what I get in the US of A.)

Yet at the same time, a major political party can run this sort of ad and still expect to gain more than 10% of the seats in parliament. And somehow it is also considered appropriate for the government to refuse to publicly discuss its support of the US’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even with journalists daily requesting and being denied interviews and protesters demonstrating outside the Parliament building in Copenhagen every day since Denmark began fighting.

It’s these kinds of things that to me seem befuddling combinations that have also gotten me thinking about how difficult it really is to explain politics in an international context. For me, it is a stretch to try to shed my biases coming from the US and look at how things work in a parliamentary system, pick up the main trends of the issues people consider important, the main trends that influence people’s views. Even after a month of fairly determined efforts, I have only a vague understanding of the politics behind the EU’s fisheries policies, let alone the larger picture of overall EU politics and how each of the member states’ political landscapes function. And similarly, trying to explain US politics and policies to people who have never lived in the US – no matter how many news shows and American movies they watch – seems nearly impossible. Sure, I can explain the basics, but it’s a system far too complicated to explain just in the course of a conversation – I can’t manage to get across the fundamental role of the US constitution in the judicial system, how we can represent a wealth of regional and ideological diversity in opinion even with a two-party system, the importance both of religion and religious groups but also of the separation between church and state. It’s certainly an eye-opening experience to try, but perhaps even more importantly, it helps me realize how impossible it is for me to really understand all the nuances of politics in Denmark, let alone in all of Europe or all of the world.

Pretty much everyone I’ve talked with so far this year about politics, and particularly the US’s role in international politics, has mentioned that they think it is really important for Americans to get out of the country and see what, and how, the rest of the world thinks. Sometimes I think this is their nice way of saying that I don’t seem quite as crazy or narrow-minded or “American” as they imagine most Americans to be, which they seem to chalk up to my having gotten out of the country (another thing I have a hard time explaining – really, not all Americans love George Bush! Nor are we all supporters of the Iraq war, conservative Christians, residents of giant cities, or any of the other assumptions I’ve heard). But I also think they’re completely right – I think it would do the US a lot of good if everyone had to spend some time abroad, seeing what the rest of the world is like.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Top of Denmark

So, despite recent appearances from this blog, I am actually in Denmark to see some fish and not just go dancing. I’m living in Hirtshals, a town on the North Sea in the northern tip of Jutland. Usually this region is considered as part of the Danish peninsula that sticks out into the sea from Germany and separates the North Sea to the west from the Kattegat and the Baltic Sea to the east. Technically, though, I’m actually living on an island known as Vendsyssel-Thy (the north Jutland island), since Limfjord, which runs through Jutland near the city of Aalborg (to the south of Hirtshals) cuts across the entire peninsula. It’s a fairly recent island, though: until 1825, Limfjord was more like a classic fjord, with the only opening to the ocean to the east on the Kattegat. A large flood in February 1825 broke through the isthmus that had previously connected Vendsyssel-Thy to the rest of Jutland and created Limfjord’s outlet the North Sea to the west. So now Limfjord is more like a strait or a sound than a fjord and I get to continue my trend for this year of living on islands.

As you can probably guess from the reference to all of the varied seas and from the fact that this is a blog about my adventures studying fisheries, there is a lot of fishing in northern Denmark, and particularly in Hirtshals, which has a large harbor and fishing fleet of both large and small fishing boats. However, Hirtshals is not only a good place to see the Danish fisheries firsthand because of its central place in Denmark’s fishing industry, but also a particularly good place to study fisheries because the North Sea Center, a major research facility for scientists, fishing industry organizations, and other researchers (also where I’m living), is located just a few minutes walk from town. After spending most of my time in Iceland getting to know the scientists and scientific research methods used to evaluate the fishery, I’ve shifted my focus a bit for my time in Denmark and now am getting to know the cod fishery here more from the perspective of the policies and regulatory framework itself.

I’m working with an organization called IFM (Innovative Fisheries Management), which focuses on studying the fishing industry, coastal communities, and policy-making bodies involved in fisheries regulations from a sociological perspective. This is a really good starting point for getting into the fishery here because it gives me a chance to look at a broad comparative picture between a number of different countries and really get a sense of how some of the overall policy frameworks work (or don’t work). I’m helping put together the final analysis for a project comparing the implementation of total allowable catch (TAC) management systems in Denmark, Norway, the Faroe Islands, and Spain, which has helped me both to get into the details of how the management systems work in different countries (and especially in understanding Denmark in the context of the EU). In theory, I don’t really like the idea of working on something so “academic” as an official project that culminates in a published book as part of my year of adventure, but I think I will feel that I’ve missed something central without looking at some of the nitty-gritty details of how the system works on a large scale and this is pretty hard to figure out experientially. Plus, since part of what I’m trying to understand is policy-making, this is a bit of a chance to see how the policy-making structure is understood by people inside the system.

Working with IFM and living in Hirtshals is also ideal for actually getting to know some of the Danish fishermen and get a first-hand view of how the fishing industry works on a local scale, since the other people at IFM have a lot of good connections with the fishing organizations here. Getting access to these connections has been fairly slow, however, and I’ve been struggling a bit to define what I’m doing here. The guesthouse where I’m living at the North Sea Center is very comfortable and I feel like my small explorations of the area along with my work on the project for IFM aren’t quite adventurous enough to properly do what I’m intending to/trying to/supposed to do with this year. I’ve been starting to realize, though, that living in a small town in northern Jutland is not by its nature terribly adventurous, and so I’ve been taking the chance to see the area and get to know the place I’m living for it's simpler beauty.

And, as it turns out, the place I’m living is – like much of Denmark – beautifully picturesque. The light, and particularly the sunsets, are consistently among the most gorgeous I have ever seen – this light was actually made famous in the late 1800s by an artist colony that moved to Skagen, about 50 kilometers north of here at the tip of Vendsyssel-Thy. I’ll write more about some of my actual adventures soon, but for now, here are some pictures to give you the sense of the area here in northern Jutland.

This lighthouse is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Hirtshals.

This style of building, and particularly the bright yellow color, is also classically Danish, and together with this statue of a fish, is another characteristic picture of Hirtshals.

The small boats in the town harbor are also a classic view of Hirtshals. These are types of fishing boats that go out just for the day, the type of fishing boats that are disappearing very rapidly in the pushes to deal with overcapacity in the fishing industry by scrapping old boats. The new individual vessel quota system means that you have to buy a boat in order to buy that boat’s fishing quota, so there are a lot of boats in the harbor now that aren’t fishing anymore because their quota was transferred to a larger, longer-distance boat while the small boats just stay in the harbor. Many, of course, are still fishing, but this view of the harbor shows more boats than are actually still working.

Like in Iceland, fishing isn’t just a job – it’s also a common leisure activity.

Fishing and maritime culture are also an integral part of everything here, from the pubs...
(this one fairly touristy, attached to a hotel downtown)

(and this one, which I went to my first weekend here and heard a local band playing covers of American, British, and Danish pop music and met a decidedly local crowd) the street names.

And even if you don’t notice fishing culture walking through town, you can't miss the smell of herring from the processing plants.

Even the Legos, a Danish invention (the name actually comes from the Danish leg godt – “play well”) and thus sold in pretty much every store, have a maritime theme.

The best part of being here though, and the thing that has really sold me on Hirtshals, are the sunsets over the ocean, whether looking along the coast towards the lighthouse...or out at the fishing boats coming back at nightfall.

or just at the waves and the sea and the sky.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dancing in Denmark

I will apologize in advance that my first real news of northern Jutland is not about fish and contains no photograph evidence of my adventures…but it is about Danish folk dancing, which warmed my twirl-deprived heart after the long hiatus since my last contradance in May. A brief introduction for those of you who are not folk dancing aficionados: for my last year and a half in New England, I discovered the joys of contradancing, which involves lots of jigs and reels played by generally-excellent bands and then there’s the twirling and the skirts and lots of other happiness. This may once again prove that there’s something odd about me, but I can definitively say that the most fun I had going out on weekends in college was had by going contradancing. I’ve missed the dancing a lot since I left home, and have been determined to find some local folk dancing in the course of my Watson travels.

Using my internet sleuthing skills, I found a listing for a folk dance fairly close to Hirtshals, a mere twenty minute train ride away in the town of Hjørring. So Wednesday night, I found my way to the dance hall to see if I could find some Danish folk dancing. And…success! As I got to the top of the stairs and found myself in the dance hall (with an old-fashioned pub feel from the wooden tables along the side), the first band was warming up. Although it’s not quite the same as the folk music I know, the sound of three fiddles and an accordion was familiar in all the right ways and brought an inadvertent smile to my face as soon as I walked in. The music was very good – two different bands, with lots of fiddles and accordions, but also a drum set, a banjo, and even an electric guitar. The dances were generally arranged in couples in one large circular set and mostly based on the waltz (which I know) and the polka (which I need to learn), though they also did a Faroese dance with some fun kicking steps and a neat arm-linking section and a few four-couple sets with dance arrangements similar to things I’ve seen before.

In addition to the dancing and the music, they also had some extra lovely traditions: rather than simply having a break in the middle, everyone moved the tables and benches from the side of the hall to form a long table down the middle, where a dancer who works at a local bakery provided a snack for the musicians and everyone else pulled out their own coffee and cakes from home and sat to talk and eat together. Then after we finished, they passed around song books and everyone sang traditional local songs together (though I couldn’t understand most of it, the gist was about the natural beauty of northern Jutland - the strand and the sand and the fjords…a proper proud folk song). And then we sang again at the end, this time while doing the traditional circle dance to Auld Lang Syne – in Danish of course, although one of the musicians who I had talked with made a point of smiling at me and singing along in English.

I was too busy dancing to take any pictures, so here’s one from one of the many websites with lots of good history, pictures, music, and instructions all about Danish folk dancing. The dance I went to wasn’t outside or in traditional Danish costumes, but still pretty fabulous.

I had been worried that I would be lost with the dance explanations all given in Danish, but it turns out that the Danish folk dances are generally less complicated than contra dances – rather than calling the dance as it goes along, it’s just explained at the beginning, or just assumed to be one that everyone already knows, so they have to be simple enough that dancers can remember the whole thing. I still was lost as to the instructions, but I could generally pick up most of it as the dance progressed, and nobody seemed upset when I did something wrong. One man made sure to explain to me that this group does the dances for fun, not to try to be completely proper or even entirely authentic to the “original” folk dances of the 1860s – which, after all, is more authentic to the spirit of folk dancing. Though there were a number of people who I had difficulty talking with (not everyone here feels comfortable with English, and my Danish is still at the point where I can smile and say thank you – tak – but my pronunciation even of “Jeg taler ikke dansk” – I don’t speak any Danish – is apparently incomprehensible), the group was overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming and made every effort to include me. It’s a fairly small group, with maybe 30 or 40 people (I guess that’s not so small, but my dance scale is based on Greenfield, Massachusetts, one of the largest regular contradances in the USA), all from Denmark, and I’m fairly sure everyone there was at least twice my age.

I think it was a bit of a novelty that this young American girl would find her way to their dance – the woman who made the announcements at the break made a point of telling everyone that I had come all the way from Pennsylvania and had found their group on the internet, which everyone seemed to find remarkable. A few people – those who seemed most comfortable with English – went out of their way to talk with me, including a civil engineer from northern Jutland now living in Copenhagen who told me about the history of the folk traditions here, a teacher in Hirtshals who plays accordion in one of the bands who gave me a ride home, and a former fisherman who invited me over the next morning to talk about fishing and show me how he smokes his own mackerel in the backyard (I can attest that it’s very good).

Pretty much the most fun I’ve had in Denmark – and it even turned out to have some relevance to fish (of course, like everything when you’re living in a small fishing town). I’ll definitely have to go to more dances while I’m here, and maybe actually learn how to do the polka properly. I should never again go this long (nearly five months!) without dancing.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ethical Eating

As I was browsing for new fishery-related reading material, I came across this news about the lobster industry in the US from Trevor Corson, author of The Secret Life of Lobsters (which I guess will be added to my to-read list). Turns out that animal rights supporters have convinced Whole Foods (for those of you not from the Northeast US, a liberal-minded supermarket chain that specializes in organic and natural foods) to stop selling live lobsters. The rationale for this is that most lobsters purchased alive are cooked alive, plus a variety of problems with "humane treatment" of lobsters throughout the supply chain between catching and eating.

I'm all for humane treatment of food before eating it - it's why I've stopped eating non-seafood meat and why I annoy restaurant waiters and seafood counter employees by asking where their fish were caught before buying. I distinctly remember how uncomfortable I was with the way we prepared the crabs we ate on Tangier Island on the Chesapeake Bay field seminar while I was at Williams-Mystic: there the local custom is not only to cook them alive, but to remove part of the carapace and season them first. I made myself help with the whole process, partially to see how it was done, but mostly because I didn't feel that I had the right to eat them if I didn't feel comfortable seeing how they were killed and prepared.

(A blast from the past - here we are eating our crab dinner, which was very good despite my discomfort. I'm the one on the far right.)

So I understand where Whole Foods is coming from and I appreciate the sentiment, but I think I mostly agree with Trevor Corson's critique that the substitution of prepackaged lobster for live lobster simply adds to the disconnect between consumers and their food (despite the obvious slant of his writing and my disagreement with a large number of his individual points). He also writes about the new way that Whole Foods is processing its lobsters, which despite seeming fairly humane for the lobsters (an odd concept when you think about it, since the lobster is eventually eaten either way...reminds me of the EU animal rights laws about fish tagging which are even more at odds with the fact that the research is to help support an industry of catching, killing, and eating said fish), does not seem to do much for the consumer-food source connection. I'm not sure what the "right" answer is for how to market and prepare foods that are sustainable, humane, and generally good for the world, but there is something missing in this argument.

This is also something I've been thinking about quite a bit while spending all this time studying cod fisheries, since I'm still unsure of how I feel in general about the concept of fisheries as a major food source. I know that fish are a fairly healthy food, an important source of nutrition for much of the world, and in most cases I think that wild-caught fish are a better choice of protein than domesticated animals. But when it comes down to the specifics - how and where the fish are caught, whether it is better to harvest fish from depleted wild stocks or from aquaculture facilities, whether we should be eating top of the food chain fish piscivorous fish like cod at all or switch to planktivorous fish like tilapia, that I don't really know. To truly answer a question like this, I'd need to know far more about world food supply, agricultural practices, aquaculture, and fisheries than I probably ever will...but I do know enough to say that a blanket ban of live lobster (or nearly any food product) is far too much of a simplified answer to really get at the crux of the issue.

Monday, October 1, 2007

One quarter of the way through

Hard to believe it, but I’ve been gone more than three months now, and that means I’ve officially made it through one quarter of my Watson year. As one of the minimal requirements for this fellowship, I just wrote up my first quarterly report, which is supposed to talk about my accomplishments, difficulties, successes, failures, etc. Since this is as close I’m probably ever going to get to summing up what I’ve learned (despite the many suggestions that I write a book or publish papers or some such), I share it with you:

At my interview in December, I told Rosy [the executive director of the fellowship program] that I designed my project around cod rather than a variety of fish species because I wanted to take the time to get to know the nuances and complications of the cod fishery specifically; I wanted to use the year to focus myself, immerse myself in something, to understand a subject in greater depth than I had been able to while in college. I guess it was a good enough answer that six months later, I found myself heading off to Iceland to begin my year studying cod. Over the past three months, however, rather than becoming any kind of focused expert, I have found myself discovering just how much there is to know to understand anything about the complexities of cod fisheries and their management schemes, and I have realized that my Watson project studying cod fisheries is about far more than a single species of fish.

In trying to pick up as much as I could about cod biology and ecology (I was shaky at even identifying a real-life cod when I arrived in Iceland), I found myself learning just as much about other species the cod interact with. I towed for jellyfish on a small research boat, the initial stages of a project trying to determine how to protect the growing cod aquaculture industry in Iceland from an autumn plague of stinging Lion's Mane jellyfish that kill the cod in their sea cages. I sorted and counted the fish catches from shrimp trawls all over the north of Iceland for Iceland's annual shrimp survey, a far better introduction to the survey methods used to set Iceland's fishing quotas both for cod and most other species than the papers I had read. I toured aquaculture facilities for blue mussels and halibut, two of the country's most promising farmed species in a world market where seafood is increasingly supplied by farms rather than the sea. I learned the Icelandic names for over a dozen kinds of fish (many of which I had also never heard before in English), each of which I held, probed and taught myself to identify (including even identifying partially-digested shrimp and capelin squeezed from a cod's stomach into a sieve to investigate the voracious cod's diet). I attended an entire session of the ICES conference on monkfish, a strange-looking groundfish I had never given much thought to before, which is now replacing cod as a major target species in areas where the cod fishery has been drastically reduced. Fisheries science is inherently practical and interdisciplinary: the environmental factors that affect cod and the other major fish species are nearly infinite and the more the scientists understand, the better they can provide the required advice as to how to manage the fish stocks.

The complexities of the fishery, however, only begin with the science. Even after two and a half months in Iceland, I still don't know what to think of the Icelandic fisheries management system – which I realize, after the ICES conference and my first attempts to understand the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy, is probably the simplest I will encounter this year. Before coming to Iceland, I had mainly heard the Icelandic fisheries management system described as a quota plan done right – extensive surveys to properly assess stock size, a fisheries ministry that at least now takes the science seriously, and a quota system that actually limits the amount of fish landed to the amount set based on the year's stock. The current quota system, which consists of a yearly total allowable catch (TAC) set for each species by the Ministry of Fisheries based on scientific and economic advice and divided among fishers using a system of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) that allow individuals or companies to own a share of the nation's fish resources, seems at face value to account for all the necessary elements to conserve the fish stocks. But, like most of the world's fisheries management schemes, it hasn't quite worked as intended – exceptions that enabled fishing above the TAC were allowed based on political pressure, the Ministry of Fisheries consistently set quotas above that recommended by the scientists, and the scientists often overestimated the stock size. Because of all this, the fish stocks and the cod in particular aren't doing as well as anyone had hoped, leading to the announcement soon after I arrived in Iceland that this year's cod quota will be more than 30% lower than last year's.

Unlike in most countries where fishing is a minor concern, most Icelanders, even those not involved in fishing, follow the system closely because of its continued importance to the overall economy. This meant that the quota decision sent ripples throughout the country: the government announced that it would replace jobs lost in fishing by building new roads and tunnels to create construction jobs; small towns began applications for new research facilities, museums, and government grants to support them during the periods of poor fishing. It also meant that everyone wanted to talk about the fisheries policies since, as the scientist in charge of the annual groundfish survey told me the day I landed in Reykjavík, "everyone in Iceland is a fisheries scientist." That is, everyone, whatever their involvement in the fishery, has an opinion about the management system, an observation I could soon confirm from the opinions both solicited and unsolicited I heard from many of the people I met. The head of the advisory section at the Marine Research Institute, in charge of providing the official advice used to determine the annual TACs, blames the political shortsightedness that created loopholes in fisheries regulations and led the Ministry of Fisheries to repeatedly ignore scientific advice over the past twenty years for the current depleted state of the cod stocks. Many fisheries scientists confidently support the system based on a thorough, data-rich stock size assessment, but others point to unaccounted-for complexities in the cod's behavior, genetic structure, and feeding habits (often the specific complexity that they have spent their career studying) flaws in an oversimplified stock assessment and management system. A man from Reykjavík told me he thought the quota system worked so poorly that the fish will probably be gone in a few years, that trawling should be banned immediately because it's destroying the ocean bottom and destroying the environment – an opinion that depending on your own opinion could either represent the influence of Greenpeace activism on a cityite who had lost his understanding of Iceland's dependence on natural resources or the wisdom and precautionary perspective gained by one of the few Icelanders no longer dependent on exploitative fisheries.

The perspective of large fishing companies, however, was the one I found most surprising, primarily because I had not expected them to so graciously accept the quota reduction or to so vehemently blame the small fishing boats for the industry's problems, but also because I had not expected to be so swayed by their arguments. Binni Kristgeirsson, manager of the large fishing company Vinnslustöðin, seemingly one of the most sustainability-minded in the business (he was one of the few to argue for this year's quota reduction), told me when we met at his office in Vestmannaeyjar that he thinks that ITQs are the best management strategy because they give the industry rather than the politicians control over their own destiny, blaming loopholes and political handouts rather than the principle of the quota system itself for the declining cod populations in recent years. He says that fishing companies that own their own share of the quota recognize that it's in their best interest to maintain healthy fish stocks in a healthy ocean environment, and that since it's the fishing industry that has the greatest stake in sustainably managing the fishery (not, he says, the politicians in Reykjavík who can gain votes by providing handouts or short-term economic boosts at the expense of long-term fishing prospects), the industry should have more control over the management system. He compares fishing with farming – just as the Icelandic sheep are released in the summer to go wander the mountains and each farmer knows that he owns a certain share of those sheep which he will be able to gather at the end of the summer, Icelandic fish should be able to swim in common waters without being harmed by others and then can be harvested by the fishermen based on the amount of fish they own with their share of the quota. Just as a farmer wouldn't kill an entire herd of sheep to make a large profit in one year but instead culls the herd only to the point that in can maintain itself in the coming year, fishermen who own a share in the fish stocks will know that it is in their best interest not to overfish so that the population can remain large in the coming years.

Both Binni and Jón Kjartan Jónsson, director of fish farming with seventeen years of experience at Samherji, the company with the second-largest fishing quota in Iceland, agree that it's not the large companies that own most of the quota shares but the small independent fishermen from the small, floundering fishing towns that are jeopardizing the future of the fishery by fishing without quotas, trashing low-value fish (a practice known as highgrading), and pushing for additional loopholes and concessions that allow extra fishing beyond what should be allowed under a strict quota system. Many small boats and small-town companies have sold their entire quota to the larger companies and then, Binni says, they decide they still want to fish so they go crying to the politicians to make an exception for them and give them an additional quota. Often, he says, they comply, undermining the system by decreasing the value of the existing quotas that companies like Vinnslustöðin bought within the regular system and reducing everyone's faith in the long-term value of holding a share in the quota. These small towns are like misbehaving children, he says: if you give a child candy every time it cries, it will just learn to keep crying rather than learn to behave. He doesn't sentimentalize small-town Icelandic fishing, but says that towns come and go as the times and technology change and people need to learn to adapt rather than just expect handouts. When asked about rule-breaking and enforcement of the fisheries legislation, both Binni and Jón Kjartan point to small-boat independent fishermen as the rulebreakers, saying that unlike the big companies that they work for, the small fishermen are not long-term stakeholders in the fishery and are more interested in making quick money than in remaining fishermen for years to come. Jón Kjartan says that while the large companies know they have to follow the rules or else they will get caught and penalized, the small boats can often get away with throwing back less than prime market price fish or landing fish without quota.

One of my major disappointments from my time in Iceland was that I never got first-hand sense for the views of the independent small boat fishermen, a combination of the difficulty of finding them (even the representative from the Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners association I talked with was a scientist, who told me he thought the small boat owners were trying to make quick money rather than stay in the business for the long term), the language barrier, and a lack of interest in talking about fishing among those who had left the industry. Even though the large fishing companies don't seem to be out to get the small fishermen, but I still worry that the major losers in the ITQ system are small fishermen who can't afford to hold on to their quota when times are hard. This consolidation of the fishing industry affects even successful small fishermen: I talked with a woman in Vestmannaeyjar whose husband had just gone out to sea for his first trip of the fall season and his first trip since his boss had sold his ship along with the crew to one of the large fishing and fish processing companies in town, Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja. Even though her husband still had a job and perhaps the fishing industry as a whole had become more efficient through the consolidation, the disappointment in her voice was palpable as she described how the boat had been repainted with Ísfélag colors and been renamed…it will take a while to get used to the new name, she said.

Although my natural tendency is to support independent fisherman over large companies and conservation over exploitation of resources, I find myself questioning my own beliefs as my ingrained (and, I realized, mostly US-centered) assumptions are challenged by the people I meet. Despite the American pop songs on the national radio station and "Cool American" Doritos in the grocery store, most of my knowledge from home doesn't apply in Iceland. Perhaps it really is only wasteful sentimentalism that tries to preserve the culture of old fishing towns, largely a culture of subsistence and poverty, with little to glorify or want to preserve in a world of geothermal heating, electric lighting, and grocery stores full of imported foods. Perhaps the international cry to "save the whales" should be reconsidered for the Icelandic cod-eating minke whales to allow whale hunting in order to save the fish in a country where over half the GDP still comes from fish exports. Perhaps there is hope that a quota-based management system that relies on strict compliance can function in a country small enough that all the fishing companies can police each other and all the official fisheries-related government offices, both scientists and politicians, can be housed in the same building in downtown Reykjavík. I don't have any answers, just a growing series of questions that seem to grow exponentially as I learn more about the context and complexities surrounding cod fisheries.

My experience thus far, quite separate from fish and fisheries, has also been much about questioning myself. Questioning my ability to do my project, my day-to-day decisions, my ideas not just about fisheries but about the world in general. After a whole week of rain kept me from venturing far from the hostel in Vestmannaeyjar, I found myself asking, am I really in the right place, seeing the right things? When people I tell about my project immediately suggest I write a book or publish a fabulous paper, I wonder, could someone else have seen more, accomplished more, gotten more out of this fabulous once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I have been given? When I spend time on my own, I often feel shiftless and lonely and wonder whether I am able to properly appreciate an "independent experience"; but when I spend time with others, I feel like I am giving in by finding a way to make myself feel comfortable and safe. I find myself considering other people's viewpoints more seriously and more carefully questioning my own –on everything from the war in Iraq to the redeeming qualities of enormous cruise ships to the benefits of state-run religion – while in places where I can't speak the local language, don't know the local customs, and often find myself relying on the kindness of people with backgrounds and ideas very different from my own. Yes, the reason I am here is to study fish, and certainly I know more now than I did three months ago, but when I wake up each morning, I am usually not thinking about cod; I am thinking of friends and family at home, thinking that I will spend most of the year waking up by myself in a place where I few or no people know who I am, wondering where I will live next week, wondering whether I might have to rearrange the entire rest of my project while waiting to hear back about my visa to Denmark (which I did finally get after hours on the phone and in waiting rooms while in four different countries, perhaps one of my more significant accomplishments thus far).

When I told Rosy that I wanted to limit my project to a single species, I was imagining an experience that could be focused, defined, explained in a neat five-page proposal. I imagined that I would be able to sift through everything I learned and pull out my own answers, not necessarily figure out how to fix the world's cod fisheries but at least parse my own ideas. The reality I've found so far, however, is much too complex for any answers, or even a complete and coherent listing of all the questions. And the more time I spend traveling and learning, the more questions and fewer answers I have. It's only been three months, though, and I have nine more to keep adding to my list of questions and maybe, by the end, find some answers.

So that's where I am so far.
I’m getting settled in here in Hirtshals and should have some more to say soon about the area and what I’m doing here.

For good measure, while I'm summing up, an old Icelandic poem about travel and worldliness that was displayed outside one of the buildings in downtown Reykjavík.

And my last Icelandic sunrise, from the airport.