During the Second World War most fish landed by Westmann Islands fishermen was exported fresh in ice to hard-pressed Britain. A great many boats and ships were constantly travelling back and forth. This was a highly hazardous undertaking and there were losses that we will not go into here.
Until that time most of the Westmann Islands vessels were old ones, especially those used for transporting fish. An association of vessel owners was formed, Ísfisksamlagiđ, which managed this extensive transport. Its activities were centred around the Básasker dock and this was a lively place, with many boats landing fish, which were then iced in wooden boxes and put on board freighters that took them to overseas ports. What was also special about this traffic was that the ships frequently returned loaded with coal. Fish in the way out, coal home.
The Westmann Islands fishing community was very different to what we see today. There was a large fleet of boats and many independent operators. These operators had several organisations, including Lifrarsamlag Vestmannaeyja, Olíusamlag Vestmannaeyja Ísfisksamlagiđ and Útvegsbćndafélag Vestmannaeyja. Fishing and processing company Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja was already in existence, as was the Hrađfrystistöđin processing plant and several smaller processors.
At the end of the war the British fleet immediately returned to large-scale fishing activities that had been suspended during the war years. Demand for fresh fish from Iceland declined significantly and prices fell accordingly. This was the end of the good times the war had brought and this was the situation when a group of boat owners met at the annual meeting of Lifrarsamlag Vestmannaeyja in October 1945. The meeting saw some lively discussion, as can only be expected when a large and diverse group of men with widely varying opinions meet to share their views.
A proposal was made at this meeting by Helgi Benediktsson, Eiríkur Ásbjörnsson and Kjartan Guđmundsson that the sphere of activities of Lifrarsamlag Vestmanneyja should be extended in such a way that it would be possible to produce from members’ fish landings fully-processed products. A committee was elected to examine the proposal, consisting of the board of Lifrarsamlag Vestmanneyja, Jóhann Th Jósefsson, Ástthór Matthíasson, Jónas Jónsson, Ársćll Sveinsson and Tómas M. Gudjónsson, the board of Ísfisksamlag, Eiríkur Ásbjörnsson, Sighvatur Bjarnason, Thorgeir Jóelsson og Kjartan Gudmundsson, as well as Helga Benediktsson, Jóhann Sigfússon and Ólafur Á. Kristjánsson.
Jóhann Th Jósefsson called a meeting on the 5th of May 1946 for this extensive committee to present its findings and to discuss them. There was widespread interest and the general view was that there was a need for vessel operators to establish a co-operative effort to set up a fish processing factory. However, there were dissenting voices and many were against the idea of this being linked to Lifrarsamlag Vestmanneyja, preferring it to be an independent enterprise.
The immediate result was a smaller committee. Eiríkur Ásbjörnsson was given the role of chairman and the committee’s work continued. The matter was raised and discussed at open meetings of Olíusamlag Vestmannaeyja and Útvegsbćndafélag Vestmannaeyja where members gave the ideas a positive reception. It was thought preferable that all vessel operators in the Westmann Islands should be members and it was expected that the majority would take part in the venture. The intention was for it to be structured along the lines of other processing and sales bodies in the Westmann Islands. Those at the head of the venture felt it essential to ensure access to credit and a loan was sought from Landsbanki on the 16th of July 1946 of two to three million krónur for the construction of a fish processing factory for the vessel owners’ co-operative in the Westmann Islands.
The idea’s development continued. At a meeting on the 2nd of October 1946 Jóhann Sigfússon, Helgi Benediktsson, Ársćll Sveinsson, Gudlaugur Gíslason and Ólafur Á. Kristjánsson were elected to prepare the establishment of the Fishermen’s Processing Factory (Fiskvinnslustöđvar útgerđarmanna í Vestmannaeyjum), with Sighvatur Bjarnason and Ragnar Stefánsson chosen as substitute members. This committee started work on the 24th of October and discussed what basis the venture should have and how best to allocate the founding members’ contributions. Helgi Benediktsson, Gudlaugur Gíslason and Ragnar Stefánsson were given the task of writing an outline constitution which was put before members and agreed on the 1st of November.
These are the first four paragraphs of that constitution’s nineteen paragraphs.
The company shall be called VINNSLU- OG SÖLUMIĐSTÖĐ FISKFRAMLEIĐENDA (The Westmann Islands Production and Sales Organisation). It shall be based and domiciled in the Westmann Islands. The company is a co-operative venture and members’ liability shall be limited to their contributions.
The aim of the company is to to promote additional processing and sales of fish in the most varied manner and as widely as possible at any one time. To this end, the company intends to provide a building capable of receiving member’s fish landings to the extent deemed necessary, and in the condition that the company’s board decides according to conditions at the time, depending on whatever marketing and sales opportunities are most advantageous. Furthermore, to acquire and run as soon as possible a variety of fish processing machines and first and foremost to construct a modern quick freezing plant with the latest equipment.
Every owner of a fishing vessel in the Westmann Islands or owner of a vessel with fish available for the company to process and sell has the right to membership.
Applications for membership should be written and these will be decided upon by the board. Each member shall sign the company’s laws and regulations. The company may receive fish for processing or sale from non-members at the discretion of the board, if it feels that this is to the company’s advantage.
4.Members undertake to deliver all the fish they land in the Westmann Islands for production, with the exception of liver. Fish shall be delivered in the condition the company requires and members should follow instructions on care of the catch. Once fish has been delivered to the company’s premises, it is the company’s sole responsibility to manage processing and products resulting from it.
The Founding Meeting
The company was formally established at a meeting on the 30th of December 1946 with Gudlaugur Gíslason chairing the meeting and Ólafur Á. Kristjánsson taking minutes. Both of these men later served as mayors of the Westmann Islands. Jóhann Sigfússon explained what had gone before and related what had been done to prepare for the company’s establishment, which was unanimously agreed. 105 vessel owners registered themselves as founding members.
The first board was made up of Jóhann Sigfússon, Helgi Benediktsson, Gudlaugur Gíslason, Ársćll Sveinsson and Ólafur Á. Kristjánsson. Substitute members were Sighvatur Bjarnason og Ragnar Stefánsson. The newly elected board held its first meeting on the 3rd of January 1947 with Jóhann Sigfússon elected chairman, Sighvatur Bjarnason vice-chairman and Helgi Benediktsson secretary.
The decision was taken at the is first meeting to apply for a plot of ground under the new fish processing plant and the general inclination was that this should be located on the Básasker dock. The port authority gave its agreement for a plot above the Básasker dock which was not thought to be acceptable, preferring instead to have facilities at the quayside itself so that fish could be delivered directly. After long discussion , it was decided that a plot should be applied for to the north of the Fiskur & Ís plant.
This application was successful and the preparation began for the construction. Dr. Jakob Sigurdsson had provided a prospective set of plans which Ólafur Á. Kristjánsson was asked to examine and suggest any possible alterations. At the same time negotiations were in progress with the New Buildings Committee and by March work had reached the point at which is was decided to order cement, timber and iron along with other building materials that were allowed at the time. The final plans were completed in June and the decision was also taken to speed up the process of acquiring equipment and machines.
Construction work began in October 1947 with the first section built at the lower part of the plot by the Friđarhöfn dock. The hope was that building work could be speeded up so that it would be possible to start processing fish during the next spring’s season. Members also took part in the construction so as to be ready for the season. Many experienced fishermen could be seen at work with pick and shovel, putting up timber frames or clearing away used wood..
It was during the spring season of 1948 that it was possible to start taking fish, and to begin with this was only for saltfish production. It did not turn out to be able to take all of the fish the members landed, as the membership was large, there were a great many boats and the fishing was good. The fish the new factory could not process was either sent fresh for sale overseas or else sent to other processing plants.
In October 1947, Magnús Gudbjartsson, who owned Fiskur & Ís, approached the board to discuss to possible purchase of his company. After long negotiations an general meeting was called on the 28th of October 1948 and it was decided that Magnús Gudmundsson’s properties should be bought for ISK1,330,000, with the formal exchange to take place at the end of January 1949. Work started immediately on preparing an extension and improvements to the factory, with construction of a new ice plant building as there had been a shortage of ice at that time.
With increasing activity, an increasing number of newcomers came to the Islands to work through the season. The company soon opened a canteen to cater for its staff and this was original in Ársćll Sveinsson’s house by the old slipway. Sveinn Matthíasson was taken on to manage it for the first few years.
In the years when fishing was unrestricted there was a large fleet landing large volumes of fish. When fishing was heavy during the season there was often a need for foreign labour to cope with the large amounts of fish. For example, in 1965 more than two hundred Faroese workers and people of other nationalities came to the Islands. During that year’s season a great number of Faroese worked at Vinnslustöđin, along with Spaniards, thirty Irishmen and several Scotsmen and Jews, as the newspapers of the day reported it.
In 1953 the company built a large house on Strandvegur, known as the White House, with a canteen on the ground floor and offices on the floors above, replacing the old offices that had been at Ársćll Sveinsson’s house. The new building was used for exhibitions and meetings of a variety of clubs and associations. The building was sold in 1966 to the State Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly which used the ground floor and in 1995 the upper floors were sold to the University of Iceland and the Westmann Islands municipality, and now is home to the University research unit.
In 1975 the canteen was moved to a new building above the factory that also contained accommodation, after having been once again moved back to Ársćll Sveinsson’s house in the meantime. The accommodation was large and generous for its time. A great many newcomers came to live there during the season and the place was a lively one, and not always peaceful. Until the company built its own accommodation, the problem of housing seasonal workers had been solved by renting property around the town.
Part of the old Vinnslustöđin canteen was used for the new offices in 1987. Another chapter in the company’s relations with its staff was the setting up of a creche for staff The company bought premises in 1987 and ran it as a day care centre for three years, the only time that a company in the Westmann Islands has taken such an initiative. The day care centre has since been taken over by the local authority which continues to run it.
There were 105 founding members and at the time the enthusiasm to get the venture underway was unanimous. But it soon became apparent that the initial solidarity was not universal. In May 1948 it was agreed that members who had broken the terms of their agreements should be sent registered letters outlining their actions in breaching their terms. Members had undertaken to deliver all their fish landed in the Westmann Islands to the company. At a general meeting a month later the managing director spoke harshly of the members who had delivered fish to other companies. This resulted in legal proceedings at a later date as several operators were expelled from the company.
The 1948 general meeting appears to have been a lively one as in addition to the discussions about landings, there was some discussion about payments to board members, as the minutes relate; ‘the board was thanked for its work, or rather, the board members thanked each other with pretty words. Finally, all of the board members declined offers to accept payment for their work for the company.’ It was also at this meeting that Ólafur Halldórsson raised the question of whether or not the company should apply for one of the ten new generation trawlers that were being allocated at the times. It appears there was no discussion and no trawler was applied for.
Vinnslustöđin celebrated its tenth anniversary in January 1957, by which time there were 96 members and 40 boats. Meetings at that time were carefully documented and even minor issues called for a meeting. Board meetings were called to discuss purchasing of salt of herring barrels. Everything was examined carefully and the board’s members discussed everything. As an example, at the 15th December 1948 meeting decisions were taken to examine the possibility of running an oil pipeline to the factory and three men were asked to examine an offer from Gudlaugur Gíslason to lease or sell a five-year old, five-ton Austin lorry.
Fish Out – Coal Home
There was demand for the company’s fish through 1949 and 1950. A great many meetings were held to discuss the many applications for fish for export and Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja applied repeatedly to buy fish to meet its own production requirements. This was acceded to if there was fish available in excess of Vinnslustöđin’s capacity.
A special meeting was held on the 21st of Mars 1950 at the request of Gudlaugur Gíslason and Ástthór Matthíasson over the sale of 50-60 tons of fish for export. They had leased motor ship Fell to bring a cargo of coal from England, and needed 50-60 tons of fish as ballast to sail with. The board decided that the need for coal in the town was so urgent that they acceded to the request in spite of opposition. A few days later Helgi Benediktsson came with a similar request and wanted to send Helgi Helgason to England for coal. He was allowed 50 tons of haddock, all for coal, the black gold of the time.
In August 1950 the board received a request from fisheries scientist Árni Fridriksson to Vinnslustöđin and other companies in the Westmann Islands for a 5000 krónur contribution towards establishing a sea cage. The board responded positively and agreed to provide the requested subsidy, but there are no subsequent reports of this idea of raising fish in cages at sea. A month later the board recorded the company had become the owner of 500 tins of fruit, without mentioning where this had come from. It was decided that twelve tins should be given to each boat. Canned fruit was a rarity at the time.
Drying fish was something that has a long tradition in the Westmann Islands and Ársćll Sveinsson has set up drying racks in 1936. This production was abandoned during the war years and it was not until 1950 that Fiskiđjan hf. started again with small amounts of fish. This stockfish production increased in the Westmann Islands with seven producers doing this, of which Vinnslustöđin was the largest with more than two hundred drying racks capable of holding 2000 tons of fish, gutted but with the head on. Vinnslustöđin continued to produce stockfish in drying racks until 1990.
For the first few years, the custom was that each boat’s fish was weighed separately, and weighed again after gutting, with liver and roe also weighed separately. At the 1950 general meeting Sighvatur Bjarnason mentioned this and said that he felt it was time to adopt new methods. He criticised these working methods and said that it wasted labour. He proposed that all fish should be weighed as it was brought from the boats. The meeting agreed with him and instructed the board to prepare to start weighing ungutted fish as it was landed to the factory.
Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja had repeatedly asked for fish and there had been considerable business carried out between the two companies – to much, some would say. At the 1951 general meeting the question was put forward whether or not the company should buy the Ísfélag factory, as Vinnslustöđin had frequently been in the position of selling its best fish at a fixed rate, leaving the poorer quality fish for salting. There was much correspondence, but little interest from Ísfélag in selling. Ísfélag continued to request fish from Vinnslustöđin, and in 1952 work was in progress to expand and modify the Vinnslustöđin factory to increase productivity. As a result there was no longer interest in selling for on a contract basis to Ísfélag, although fish was still made available on an ad hoc basis.
The company’s name had been seen as being unnecessarily long and cumbersome, and the simple ‘Vinnslustöđin’ name had made an an early appearance in both minutes of meetings and correspondence, and at the 1952 general meeting the proposal was agreed to for a formal change of name. In the same year Vinnslustöđin acquired a 30% stake in the bone meal factory that later became known as Fiskimjölsverksmiđjan (the Fish Meal Factory) and in 1957 Vinnslustöđin and Fiskiđjan each owned 50%.
In 1955 the opportunity arose due to the initiative of Einar Sigurdsson for Hrađfrystistöđin, Vinnslustöđin and Fiskiđjan to buy out the properties that had been owned in Siglufjördur and Raufarhöfn by the late ‘herring king’ Óskar Halldórsson that were available for 2.50 million krónur. However, the deal came to nothing and instead the company purchased a majority shareholding in Gunnar Ólafsson & Co, a decision that shareholders were told about on the 25th of October 1955. The purchase sparked a great deal of debate and the board members were censured for not seeking shareholders’ approval first, but the purchase was subsequently approved unanimously.
The purchase brought with it property, two shops, Tanginn and a haberdashery business, as well as the old Tangi boats Ingólfur VE and Thorgeir Gođi VE. The boats and the haberdashery. The company grew, running the islands’ largest food shop, Tanginn, and managing agencies for Eimskip and Samskip shipping lines. For a while it also managed fishing vessel Helga Jóh VE. Vinnslustöđin withdrew completely from the retail business at the end of 1992.
There had long been a water shortage in the Westmann Islands before a water conduit had been laid from the mainland, and sea water had frequently been used in processing plants. In 1958 Vinnslustöđin investigated the possibilities of producing fresh water form sea water, with an offer for equipment to produce 24 tonnes of fresh water per day. An application was lodged for an import licence for this equipment, but the matter went no further.
Chairman of the board from the outset and managing director from 1948, Jóhann Sigfússon stepped down in August 1959 and his place was taken by Sighvatur Bjarnason with a formal change of managing director in November of that year. At the 1959 general meeting the decision was also taken to change the basis of the company into a limited company as Vinnslustöđin hf. The change was considered necessary as the company needed a more rigid structure and as it had grown, it had come to own valuable production facilities and other properties.
There has often been good fishing around the Westmann Islands and on occasions fish would overflow out of the factories into the streets outside. People were used to working from dawn to dusk to avoid the fish becoming spoiled and even people who were unused to fish work would find their way to the fish plants at the end of the normal working day. It was nothing unusual for schools to be given time off to allow both teachers and pupils to drop their schoolbooks and lend a hand in processing the seasonal catches.
There could also be heavy fishing through the summer and 1960 was an outstanding year for both trawl and seine caught fish. For a while it was even necessary to limit the boats’ catches as the factory could not keep up with landings. There was the same good fishing again in 1961, including excellent seine net catches of flatfish. Vinnslustöđin and the other larger producers joined forces to form the Westmann Islands Export Co-operative, which leased freighters to take the fish to England and Denmark.
As has already been described, the State Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly had been run on the ground floor of the White House form 1966 onwards, the former company canteen. The matter of this shop was raised at a board meeting in 1971 and a letter from the Westmann Islands Temperence Committee was discussed on the subject of whether or not the sale of alcohol should be ended. The following was minuted; ‘the board notes that problems associated with drinking have increased considerably since the shop was opened.’
The fish factories had operated a shared office that Gudlaugur Stefánsson had managed to begin with. This office handled all common issues such as union agreements. In 1963 the factories employed a Norwegian specialist to prepare and set up a system of piece work, a bonus scheme, and the Westmann Islands plants were the first to go down this route. From this came the establishment of Samfrost, which subsequently handled all payroll and bonus calculations for the fish processors.
Changes can be sudden. On the night of the 23rd of January 1973, firelight could be seen to the east of the settlement. Westmann Islanders found themselves facing the power of nature and an uncertain future. All activities of Vinnslustöđin and other Westmann Islands companies were suspended as the volcano raged.
At the instigation of the emergency committee, the main fish processing equipment was dismantled and taken to Reykjavík. Managing director Sighvatur Bjarnason was less than satisfied with this decision as he believed that although conditions were severe, they would soon pass and it would be possible to re-start Vinnslustöđin’s production. In April 1973 he got the board to agree to stop the removal of equipment, in opposition to the opinions of the emergency committee.
Sighvatur Bjarnason and his wife Guđmunda Torfadóttir moved from their home at Ás to the company accommodation block and stayed there virtually through the whole eruption. Also in the accommodation block were staff who were working to salvage valuable equipment, as well as to sweep volcanic ash from the factory roofs. Inspired by Sighvatur Bjarnason’s optimism, the board began preparing to move the equipment that had been removed back to the Islands in May 1973 with a view to re-starting production.
There was a huge amount to be done. Electricity was a serious problem. Even the old 1952 bus that had been used to transport staff to and from work had broken down. To begin with production was limited to saltfish but by October the company was back to full production. On the afternoon of the 22nd of October fishing vessels Danski Pétur, Skuld and Hrauney landed 10 tonnes of fish between them and it was decided that production would start the next morning. Machine filleting began in the morning and the packing room started work in the afternoon. There were a few minor breakdowns, but in general the fifteen girls working on the packing room were delighted that work had started again only nine months after the eruption.
The wheels of business were turning, slowly but surely. More and more boats had returned to land their catches, while people were moving back home. It was fortunate for the Westmann Islands that there were people with the determination and vision to take on the problems left by the disaster, prepared to work to rebuild the community and with optimism that the Westmann Islands still had a bright future.
Directors and Chairmen
Sighvatur Bjarnason had sat on the Vinnslustöđin board from the outset in 1946, as vice-chairman from 1946 to 1958 and as chairman from 1959 until his death on the 15th of November 1975. He had also combined this with his role as managing director from 1959 to the 1st of November 1974 when Stefán Runólfsson took over and held the position until 1987. Sighvatur Bjarnason had been inextricably connected to Vinnslustöđin and its activities for close to thirty years. The former skipper who had been through rough weather in a successful career at sea had been able to steer the company through equally stormy conditions. He and his colleagues had laid the foundations of what we see today as one of Iceland’s most successful fishing companies.
Vinnslustöđin chairmen have been Jóhann Sigfússon 1946-1959, Sighvatur Bjarnason 1959-1975 and Guđlaugur Stefánsson 1975-1976. Sigurđur Óskarsson sat as chairman of the board for ten years from 1976 to 1986. Sighvatur Bjarnason’s son Bjarni Sighvatsson took over the role as chairman in November 1986 and sat until 1994. Geir Magnússon was chairman from 1994 to 2000, followed by Jakob Bjarnason between 2000 and 2004, and Gunnar Felixson has been chairman since 2004. In a sixty-year history, there have been only eight chairmen of Vinnslustöđin.
In the early years the job titles were far from certain as people were either chairmen or directors. These people have managed the company since its inception; Jóhann Sigfússon 1946-1959, Óskar Sigurđsson 1946-1969 (financial director), Sighvatur Bjarnason 1959-1974, Stefán Runólfsson 1974-1987, Björn Úlfljótsson 1987-1992 (financial managing director), Viđar Elíasson 1987-1992 (operating managing director), Sighvatur Bjarnason 1992-1999, and Sigurgeir Brynjar Kristgeirsson since 1999.
The Trawler Revolution
By 1975 the way fishing was organised in the Westmann Islands had begun to change. Smaller boats were fewer with small amounts of fish being landed less regularly. Vinnslustöđin’s management began to look seriously at the option of investing in a stern trawler to supply the factory with raw material. The ideas developed into a co-operation with Fiskiđjan and Ísfélag to acquire a new stern trawler built in Poland, Klakkur VE-103, which arrived in early 1977.
A new limited company, Klakkur hf, was set up by the three companies to manage the trawler. This sparked the trawler revolution in the Westmann Islands which continued with Fiskimjölsverksmiđjan hf. buying in 1977 trawlers Sindri VE-60 and Breki VE-61, which landed their catches roughly equally between Vinnslustöđin and Fiskiđjan. At around the same time, Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja acquired a half share on trawler Vestmannaey VE-54, which arrived during the eruption year of 1973, and its catches were landed to all three factories.
Trawler operations were not easy for the first few years. Negotiations between Vinnslustöđin, Fiskiđjan, Fiskimjölsverksmiđjan and Ísfélag ensued towards establishing a single operating company for Klakkur, Sindri og Breki, resulting in Samtog being set up on the 1st of January 1980. Contracts were also signed the following year for two more trawlers, Gideon and Halkion to be built in Poland, and these were delivered in 1984.
These changes were enough to stabilise the flow of raw material for the three high-capacity fish processing plants in the Westmann Islands, also ensuring steady employment for their staff. Otherwise it is likely that the factories would have been short of raw material for part of the year. But the co-operation over Samtog was short-lived. In 1987 Ísfélag pulled out of the company, taking Gideon and Halkion with it. In December 1990 Samtog was closed down, with Vinnslustöđin retaining Breki and Fiskiđjan taking Klakkur and Sindri.
Good Times, Bad Times
Iceland’s fishing industry has long been characterised by changing times, with years of booming prosperity interspersed with years when business is hard and closures and layoffs appear unavoidable. Things weren’t looking good for Vinnslustöđin in 1978. At a general meeting on the 17th of July the difficulties of running a factory with rapidly rising raw material and staff costs were discussed, along with the falling prices of finished products. The board decided to stop receiving fish if nothing were to change, and to give the entire staff notice.
The costs involved in closing the company were examined and on the 12th of August shareholders were invited to a meeting to discuss the problems facing the company. The discussion was a long one and no decision was reached. Later that month an interim financial report was made on the 15th of August and the figures were unsettling. The total value of production for the year was ISK 1260 million, while raw material and labour costs were put at ISK 1126 million, leaving only ISK 133 million to cover management and finance costs. Raw material had accounted for 54% of costs, and wages 24%, but by later that year the company’s situation had improved significantly. Both before and since the company has faced similar problems to those of 1978, but such are the fluctuations that the Icelandic fishing industry is used to.
In 1981 Vinnslustöđin began a working relationship with Jóhannes Kristinsson, skipper of Helga Jóh VE from the Faroes and Vinnslustöđin had a 35% share in the boat. On spite of some excellent fishing, the financial results were not encouraging and it was a turbulent co-operation. A few years later Jóhannes Kristinsson offered Vinnslustöđin the opportunity to buy his share of the boat and in 1987 it was entirely in the company’s and subsidiary company Gunnar Ólafsson & Co hf. managed its activities.
In 1983 the board of Vinnslustöđin decided to examine the idea of establishing a fur farm in the Westmann Islands, with the possibility of using fish processing waste for feed. The idea never came to fruition. The idea of turning the White House into a hotel also didn’t come to anything, although Pálmi Lórenzon, the Islands’ catering king at the time, was keen to buy the building and convert it into a hotel.
Early in 1988 three labour unions in the Westmann Islands bid for the 4.5% shareholding in Vinnslustöđin that Sigurđur Óskarsson had decided to offer for sale, but the company had a right to pre-empt offers and was able to purchase them itself. The head of one of the three unions later told the press that they had seen themselves forced to act to prevent a situation in which a few people would be able to who had access to work in the Islands and who didn’t, commenting that with the present trend these companies were set to almost become dynasties. The unions failed to buy the shares, although people still get to work at Vinnslustöđin.
At the end of 1988 Vinnslustöđin acquired the entire shareholding of Lifrarsamlag Vestmananeyja that had until then been owned by Vinnslustöđin, Ísfélag, Hrađfrystistöđin and Bergur-Huginn. 1989 again saw more tough operating times, as well as an uncertain future. At this time the option of floating a separate company to manage fishing activities was raised and on the 1st of January the fishing company Knörr hf was formally established.
Vinnslustöđin had been a member of the Icelandic Freezing Plants Corporation for many years, and for many of them had been one of the Corporation’s highest capacity processors. Relations had often been stormy and in 1990 things came to a head as Vinnslustöđin announced its departure from IFPC. Many meetings followed and the resignation was withdrawn in early 1991. But it was not long before further disagreements emerged and the parting with IFPC became a reality at the end of 1994.
Towards the end of 1991 a process began that was the beginning of the largest series of changes to the Westmann Islands’ fishing industry. At a shareholders’ meeting on 30th December 1991 the proposal to merge Vinnslustöđin’s subsidiaries Lifrarsamlag Vestmannaeyja, Gunnar Ólafsson & co hf and Útgerđarfélag Knörr hf with the parent company was passed. A subsequent motion was for the merging of Vinnslustöđin, Fiskiđjan hf. and Fiskimjölsverksmiđjan hf, while at the same time Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja and Hrađfrystistöđ Vestmannaeyja were also in the process of being merged. So when Westmann Islands heard the new year of 1992 being rung in, much had changed, with many long-established companies having disappeared and in their place were two giants, Vinnslustöđin og Ísfélag.
There were more changes to come. Bjarni Sighvatsson and his family sold their share to Íslenskra Sjávarafurđa hf. which had become, with Olíufélag hf. and Vátryggingafélag Íslands hf., the largest shareholders in the company that by now had around 400 hundred shareholders.
A celebration was organised in the Vinnslustöđin canteen on the 13th of January 1996 to mark a production record as 4000 tonnes of frozen herring had been produced that season, setting a new record. The previous year the figure had been 3063 tonnes of herring products, and 2100 tonnes in 1993, although a production figure of between 500 and 1000 tonnes had been normal. 1996 was also a record year for Vinnslustöđin for the capelin season with 5010 tonnes frozen, plus 160 tonnes of roe, and 62,800 tonnes had been processed for fishmeal – making a this a record year for everything except roe production.
In the middle of 1996 Vinnslustöđin expanded its shareholding by ISK 200 million with an unexpectedly positive response as all of the additional shares were sold before they had even reached the open market.
The big news at the end of 1996 was an agreement between Vinnslustöđin and Meitillin in Thorlákshöfn for the two companies to merge under the Vinnslustöđin name. The proposal was unanimously accepted at the annual meeting on the e12th of December 1996, and shortly before that the Meitillin shareholders had accepted a similar proposal. Due to operational difficulties the decision was taken in May 1999 to reduce land-based processing and all production in Thorlákshöfn was ended, with the buildings and equipment sold to Frostfisk hf. A large number of staff at both Westmann Islands and Thorlákshöfn locations were laid off and when production started again after the annual summer break, only 150 staff were on the payroll, half the previous number.
Vinnslustöđin’s 50th anniversary was celebrated on the 12th of December 1996, with an annual general meeting followed by a banquet for 500 guests with bequests made to local charities and the surviving founding members honoured.
On the 3rd of April 1997 Vinnslustöđin merged with the long-established fishing company Immanúel hf. that had for years been run by Emil Andersen. Immanúel operated fishing vessel Danski Pétur VE.
On the 16th of May 1997 Vinnslustöđin sold its trawler Sindri to the Faroe Islands, and at the same time became part of a fishing operation there under the Guldrangur name.
On the 15th of March 1999 managing director Sighvatur Bjarnason resigned from the position he had held since the big merger in 1992. Sigurgeir Brynjar Kristgeirsson stepped in as caretaker director after having been with the company since 1996, initially at its Thorlákshöfn location.
Towards the end of 1999 negotiations were in progress towards merging Vinnslustöđin, Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja hf., Krossanes hf. and Ósland ehf. Talks had been making progress and letters of intent were prepared, but after long meetings and much discussion, the board of Vinnslustöđin withdrew from the negotiations.
A staff association was established Vinnslustöđin in 2000 with the company contributing ISK 2.50 million towards it. The association has been active in organising a variety of activities for staff.
In 2000 Vinnslustöđin and Gandí ehf. signed a letter of intent towards a merger under the Vinnslustöđin name and the merger took place in June that year. Gandí had been owned by Gunnlaugur Ólafsson and Krístín Gísladóttir, with two boats, Gandí and Guđjón, plus the small boat Hlýri.
On the 28th of March 2000 Kap ehf, owned jointly by Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja and Bergur-Huginn hf, acquired a 15% share in Vinnslustöđin.
On the 7th of July 2000 talks start again on the possibility of a merger between Vinnslustöđin and Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja, but in November the board again decides to abandon the negotiations.
Electronic share dealing on the Icelandic stock exchange began in August 2000 with Vinnslustöđin shares registered for trading.
On the 20th of November 2000 Vinnslustöđin sold its share in Faroese company p/f Guldrangur that had operated a trawler under the same name in the Faroes and later in Russia, returning a significant loss on this venture.
On the 21st of May 2001 Vinnslustöđin purchased Jón Erlingsson ehf. in Sandgerđi and on the 30th of July 2002 bought a 50% share in Úndína efh., the operating company of trawler Björg VE which was subsequently merged with Vinnslustöđin.
On the 4th of January 2002 a majority shareholding held by Olíufélag in Vinnslustöđin was transferred to Ker and other companies kinked to the S-Group.
Kap ehf. sold its 15% share in Vinnslustöđin on the 14th of November 2002 to Haraldur Gíslason and Gunnlaugur Ólafsson, both of them directors of Vinnslustöđin.
On the 23rd of December 2002 a controlling share of Vinnslustöđin was sold by Ker hf. to Haraldur Gíslason and Gunnlaugur Ólafsson, along with managing director Sigurgeir Brynjar Kristgeirsson and the brothers Guđmundur and Hjálmar Kristjánsson from Rif.
Vinnslustöđin purchased in early 2003 a 45% share in Stilla ehf. which held a 25% shareholding in Vinnslustöđin, and Seil ehf. holds a 55% share in Stilla along with Vinnslustöđin. Seil;s shareholders are Haraldur Gíslason, Gunnlaugur Ólafsson, Guđmundur and Hjálmar Kristjánsson via their own company and managing director Sigurgeir B. Kristgeirsson.
In 2003 Vinnslustöđin gave its staff association shares in the company valued at ISK 8.213.000, with these shares issued in the names of staff. The reason for this was to demonstrate the company’s gratitude to its workforce for its good work and the company’s excellent results.
At the end of 2003 an agreement was reached for a merger between Vinnslustöđin and Ísleifur efh., an established fishing business owned by Leifur Ársćlsson and Gunnar Jónsson, both of whose fathers had been founding members of Vinnslustöđin. As part of the agreement, conditions were set that fishing vessel Ísleifur had always to be painted green, the letters AS had to be displayed on the funnel and there should be a four-leafed clover on the bow.
Vinnslustöđin decided in 2005 to award its staff ashore and at sea a bonus of ISL 2 million.
A 48% share of pelagic operator Huginn ehf. was acquired in June 2005.
Gullberg VE with all of its capelin, herring and blue whiting quotas was acquired from Ufsaberg ehf. in July 2005, making Vinnslustöđin a major pelagic operator.
Vinnslustöđin sold its entire share in Stilla ehf. on the 16th of June 2006 to a company owned by Hjálmar Kristjánsson. At the same time, Hjálmar Kristjánsson sold his shareholding in í Seil ehf. to Haraldur Gíslason, Kristín Gísladóttir and Sigurgeir B. Kristgeirsson.
By the time Vinnslustöđin’s sixtieth anniversary arrived in December 2006, the company was operating eight vessels, as well as a processing plant and a fishmeal factory in the Westmann Islands with a staff of 170.
This brings the story of Vinnslustöđin up to the present day, and this is a far from exhaustive history of the company’s sixty years. A great deal of use was made of the company’s meeting records in compiling this brief history, and further sources were researched in newspapers, books and magazines.