Tribute to Jakob Jakobsson

By Emory D. Anderson, Editor of ICES Cooperative Research Reports and former ICES General Secretary, USA
Published: 8 February 2021
​​​Jakob Jakobsson of Iceland, twenty-first President of ICES (1988–1991), passed away on October 22 at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife Margrét, three children, and a number of grandchildren. 

Born the son of a cod fisherman, Jakob received his BSc (Hons) degree in fisheries and mathematics from the University of Glasgow in 1956, after which he began a long career at the Marine Research Institute in Reykjavik where he served as deputy director (1975–1984) and later as director (1984–1998). As director, a position many viewed as the most important in the country, even more so than the president, given that fisheries is one of the main components of Iceland’s economy, Jakob was well known in his country. Early on, he became known for his scientific work on herring, and as director, he was responsible for strengthening the Institute and helped to usher in the quota system for Iceland’s large commercial fishery.

Active in the scientific and fish stock assessment work of ICES, Jakob participated in various committees and working groups such as the Advisory Committee on Fishery Management (ACFM), Pelagic Fish Committee, Herring Assessment Working Group for the Area South of 62°N, Atlanto-Scandian Herring and Capelin Working Group, Blue Whiting Assessment Working Group, and Working Group on North Atlantic Salmon. In 1983, he was appointed Delegate for Iceland and the following year was elected a Vice-President and member of the Bureau. In 1985, he was elected First Vice-President, a position he held for three years until being elected President in 1988.

Because my years serving in ICES Secretariat (1985–1993), first as Statistician (1985–1988) and then as General Secretary (1989–1993), overlapped with Jakob’s involvement in the decision- and policymaking of ICES, it was only logical that our paths would cross and intertwine. I will forever be grateful for his profound influence on my career and life stemming from that connection and the special friendship that we shared.  

I first met Jakob in July 1978 in Aberdeen at the ICES/ICNAF symposium on “The Assessment and Management of Pelagic Fish Stocks”. He was a member of the symposium’s planning group and also chaired the session where I presented an invited paper on the Northwest Atlantic mackerel fishery. I still remember him politely but nervously urging me to finish my talk, as I had a lot of material to cover in the time allotted and was anxious to fit it all in.

It wasn’t until I joined the Secretariat in 1985 as Statistician that I would begin regular interactions with him. As a Vice-President, he attended meetings of the Bureau held in the Secretariat in late May or early June and also the Statutory Meetings in early October, with both occasions, but especially the former when the Bureau would host a lunch for the staff, providing ample opportunity to get better acquainted. As Statistician, one of my responsibilities was to assist assessment working groups with computer runs when they met in the Secretariat. I remember one year during a meeting of the Atlanto-Scandian Herring and Capelin Working Group being asked by Jakob to make a virtual population analysis run on the computer for his favorite herring stock (Icelandic summer-spawning herring), with strict instructions on what input parameters to use. I did as he asked, but later wondered if he was checking on my capabilities or my capacity to follow directions!

In 1987, after Basil Parrish had announced his retirement effective in early 1989 and the Council had issued an advertisement for the post of General Secretary, I began to ponder whether I should apply for the job. Later that year at a meeting in London, Jakob inquired whether I was considering submitting an application and said that if I were to do so, I would have his strongest support. That offer struck me like a thunderbolt, but eventually persuaded me to follow through with his suggestion. The following June, as was standard procedure for the Statistician in support of the chairman of ACFM, I attended the annual meeting of NASCO (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization) which, that year, was held in Reykjavik. Having been on annual leave in the US several weeks before, my wife and I arrived in Reykjavik directly from the US. While there, we endured a summer snow storm and associated cold weather, but were also invited one evening, with other friends, to Jakob and Margrét’s home for dinner and conversation. Around midnight, we were introduced to an Icelandic delicacy, hákarl or fermented shark that has a strong ammonia smell and fishy taste making it clearly an acquired taste. It is best consumed quickly and followed immediately by a shot of Icelandic schnapps Brennivín (sometimes called “black death” because of the white skull against a black label on the bottle). Needless to say, it wasn’t the only time, in Jakob’s presence over the years, that I was served “Icelandic shark”, as I called it.

The following year in October at ICES Statutory Meeting held in Bergen, I was selected by the Council to replace Basil Parrish as General Secretary. To this day, I am convinced that it was due to Jakob’s influence. At the same meeting, Jakob was elected President, and John Pope (UK) was selected as chairman of the Consultative Committee. It was often jokingly referred to later as the takeover of ICES by a group of upstarts! Over the next three years, the three of us led an ambitious programme of reform. Some of the innovations were simple: greater focus on Theme Sessions in the Statutory Meetings, the awarding of prizes for best papers and posters. Some were much more ambitious, such as beginning the process of reforming the Subject/Area Committees to thematic rather than solely geographic bases, with concomitant changes in the proliferating number of working and study groups. Within the Secretariat, Jakob supported the acquisition of a new computer system and improvements to the office’s physical facilities and conditions of service for staff. The changing of the names (from French to English) and covers of the various ICES publications was an important stimulus in making ICES better known within the international marine science community. A number of these changes, initially proposed within the Secretariat and requiring additional funding from Member Countries, were firmly supported by Jakob in his role as President. He championed all suggestions and proposals if he thought they made good sense and would benefit ICES and, at Bureau or Delegates meetings, while being fair at all times, would not hesitate to raise his voice against anyone who he thought was unfairly or unnecessarily voicing criticism of my initiatives as General Secretary. For having always received such unwavering support from Jakob, I will always be grateful.

During his three years as President, we often traveled together to various meetings either convened by ICES (e.g. Dialogue Meetings to promote communication among fishery scientists, national and international fishery managers and administrators, and members of the fishing industry) or by client organizations (e.g. OSPAR). One such meeting that warrants mentioning is the Seventh ICES Dialogue held in late November 1989 in London and chaired by Jakob. Following presentations by four speakers representing fisheries science, economics, administration, and the fishing industry on the topics of stability and objectives, there was open discussion. A representative of the Scottish Whitefish Producers Association stated that “the problem is that very few of the scientists and administrators really know the industry well; virtually none have backgrounds in the industry.” Unwilling to let that statement go unchallenged, Jakob jumped to his feet and proclaimed that he knew the industry very well and had worked in it with his fisherman father!

After his three-year term as President, Jakob remained a Delegate from Iceland through 2000. Following my stepping down as General Secretary at the end of 1993 and returning to the US, I continued attending Statutory Meetings and seeing Jakob yearly on those occasions. In addition to our friendship, our wives, Geri and Margrét, also had become steadfast friends. When I was asked by ICES in 1996 to serve as convener of the symposium on “100 Years of Science under ICES”, I was pleased that Jakob was appointed a member of the steering committee. Organizational meetings over the next three years held in conjunction with the Annual Science Conferences (ASC), plus the symposium itself in 2000, afforded ample opportunities to keep our friendship alive. 

The last time my wife and I were together with Jakob and Margrét was at the 2010 ASC held in Nantes, when most of the living former Presidents were invited back to be recognized and honored. I remember that we promised to get together again sometime in the future, but unfortunately it was never to be. Aside from our annual exchange of Christmas letters, the closest reconnection occurred in summer 2017 when our late daughter Lisa and her two young daughters embarked on a nearly month long visit to all of the Scandinavian countries to visit family and friends. On their way home, they stopped off in Iceland for a few days to explore family history (Lisa’s late husband had ancestral connections in Iceland) and were graciously hosted by Jakob and Margrét.  

In looking back, as I often do, to my experiences with ICES, both in the Secretariat and afterwards as a meeting participant and now as an editor, I am always reminded how fortunate I was to have worked with memorable people like Jakob Jakobsson, who I consider to be one of the best ICES Presidents with whom I have been associated. May his memory live on.

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Tribute to Jakob Jakobsson

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