In 1948, the National Parliament passed a law concerning the scientific protection of the fishing grounds located on the continental shelf. This is generally considered to mark the beginning of Icelandic claims for the control of the fishing grounds around the country. Upon the agreement reached with the United Kingdom, and their recognition (in 1976) of the exclusive 200-mile Icelandic fishing limit, it was possible to govern the fishing in most of fishing grounds around Iceland. In 1991, all Icelandic fishing fleets were given a quota, with each ship allocated its annual share. The quota rights can be sold, leased out, or used in the same way as other possessions.
Quota sales have increased since the beginning of the quota system, with ownership of quotas resting with ever fewer people. This is due, in no small part, to the wave of mergers which has hit the Icelandic fishing industry in recent years. This has brought about considerable improvements in efficiency but, at the same time, has placed more restrictions than before on the access to the fishing grounds.
Large-scale fishing enterprises buy quotas from the smaller operators and unemployment follows in the villages from which the quotas are taken. The new rich who have profited from the quota sales are called, both in jest and in earnest, “Counts of the Sea.”