Over 180,000 Petition Iceland to Stop Open Net Fish Farming

About 180,000 people around the world have signed a petition to Icelandic, Norwegian, Scottish, and Irish authorities to stop granting licences for open net fish farming and to rescind currently valid licences in stages, Vísir reports. Iceland’s Parliamentary Speaker Steingrímur J. Sigfússon accepted the petition on Alþingi’s behalf yesterday.

Last spring, US outdoor gear company Patagonia and WeMove launched a petition with the support of Icelandic nature conservation groups calling on the Icelandic government to stop open-net fish farming. Jón Kaldal, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Wildlife Fund, says he is concerned about the effects of open net fish farming on wild salmon populations.

“Salmon farming in open net sea farms is carried out such that a net is hung in a frame and fish are set inside the net. All of the pollution and all of the waste; drugs, pesticides, and other things that go in the net and the pens, runs directly into the sea afterward,” Jón remarks. “These operations cause incredibly localised pollution. These are repeated outbreaks of [salmon] lice, just last week they were putting poison into the pens in the southern Westfjords, both at Arnarlax and Arctic Sea Farm, due to salmon lice which is rampant there.”

Salmon in open net farms also put wild salmon populations at risk, says Jón. Farmed salmon has previously escaped from pens in Iceland, posing a cross-breeding risk which could diminish wild salmon’s chances of survival. Iceland has the resources necessary for farming fish on land, says Jón, and points to the already developed arctic char farms in Iceland. Farming fish on land in closed pens eliminates the risk to wild fish populations, keeps waste separate from the surrounding environment, and keeps fish lice free. “We want to see that no more pens go into our fjords and that a clear line is laid down banning all open net sea farms and all of the farming moved up on land in the coming years,” Jón stated.

Open net salmon farms account for about three quarters of all fish farms in Iceland. Aquaculture production in Iceland is expected to double by 2021.

Samherji and Iceland Under Scrutiny

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is prepared to ensure any additional funding that may be needed to investigate Samherji’s operations in Namibia. Icelandic banks also report that they plan to investigate their business with Samherji. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says Iceland’s handling of the bribery scandal will be a touchstone case and plans to follow the matter closely.

Government investigates

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated in an interview on Kastljós yesterday that if tax authorities need more funding to conduct an investigation into Samherji’s affairs, it will be provided, so that the issue is researched “with due diligence.” The Prime Minister added that it’s also necessary to consider whether laws need to be amended in order to require large unlisted companies, like Samherji, to submit comparable information to companies listen on the stock market.

Icelandic banks investigate

Arionbanki’s board of directors has requested a detailed examination of the bank’s business with Samherji. Friðrik Sophusson, chairperson of the board at Íslandsbanki, says the board will likely discuss the issue at a meeting today. Helga Björk Eiríksdóttir, chairperson of Landsbanki’s board, stated the bank cannot comment on issues relating to its customers, but is legally bound to carry out statutory supervision of its customers.

Norwegian bank DNB is reviewing the tax component of Samherji’s case. The bank ceased its business relationship with Samherji last year as it deemed the company a money laundering risk.

Björgólfur Jóhannsson, who took over as CEO of Samherji following Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson’s resignation last Thursday, says that one ship which is part of the company’s foreign operations is financed through an Icelandic bank. Björgólfur says the company will provide banks with information on its finances if it is requested.

Þorsteinn Már has not only stepped down as CEO of Samherji, he has also requested indefinite leave from the board of Síldarvinnslan and stepped down as board director of Faroese fishing company Framherja.

“Touchstone case,” says OECD

Drago Kos, chair of the OECD Working Group on Bribery, says the case data appears trustworthy, and the case will be a touchstone for Icelandic authorities. The case is being formally investigated by Icelandic police, and the OECD will follow its development closely.

“For us at the OECD, it will be a good test of the Icelandic police and the prosecution to see how they handle the case,” Kos stated. “We are closely monitoring the case’s progress.” Kos says he hopes Icelandic authorities will address the case “within a reasonable timeframe, in a quick and efficient way,” underlining that the first step is to determine whether the allegations are in fact true.

Icelandic Chef Awarded Michelin Star

Souvenir Restaurant, run by Icelandic chef Vilhjálmur Sigurðarson in Ghent, Belgium, has been awarded a Michelin star. Vilhjálmur has run the restaurant alongside his Belgian wife Joke Michiel since 2014. It’s a big week for the couple, who are expecting their third child in a few days.

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“I moved to Belgium at the time to work at a restaurant here. It was meant to just be a short stopover but life took over. I met Joke and eventually I got stuck,” Vilhjálmur told Belgian newspaper HLN, describing the culinary atmosphere in Ghent as “ideal.”

“Initially we didn’t even think of coming to this ceremony since the baby is supposed to arrive this week,” Vilhjálmur confessed. “Fortunately, we came anyway.”

Souvenir’s menu is built around local vegetables and seafood. Ghent has a five other restaurants with one or more Michelin stars: Restaurant Vrijmoed, with two starts; and Restaurant Horseele, Chambre Séparée, Oak Restaurant, and Publiek with one star.