Accounting for about 9% of Iceland's employment, fishing and fish processing provide the primary source of foreign exchange. Exports of fish products were valued at $1.22 billion in 2000. Icelanders consume more fish per capita annually (over 90 kg/198 lb live weight equivalent) than any other people in Europe. Cod is caught during the first five months of the year off the southwest coast. Herring are taken off the north and northeast coasts from June to September and off the southwest from September to December. In 2001, the fish catch was 1,941,905 tons (11th in the world), up from 1,502,445 tons in 1990. The 2001 catch included 918,417 tons of capelin, 365,101 tons of blue whiting, 240,002 tons of Atlantic cod, 101,172 tons of Atlantic herring, 50,087 tons of redfish, 30,790 tons of shrimp, and 39,825 tons of haddock.
The fishing fleet as of 2002 consisted of 80 stern trawlers totaling 79,413 GRT and 1,932 other fishing vessels of 112,024 GRT. Most fishing vessels are now equipped with telecommunications devices, computers, and automated equipment. Through the early 1980s, about 250 whales a year were caught off the coast, providing lucrative export products. Although Iceland had agreed to phase out whaling in order to comply with the 1982 ban by the International Whaling Commission, in 1987 it announced its intention to take 100 whales a year for scientific purposes, but since 1990 no whales were reportedly taken.
Abundant quantities of pure water and geothermal heat give Iceland an advantage over other nations in fish farming. Aquaculture is being developed to offset lean years in the natural fish catch, and to produce more expensive and profitable species of fish.