Environmental Associations Call for Ban on Marine Fish Farming

arnarlax fish farm iceland

This fall, when aquaculture company Arnarlax went to harvest their Westfjords fish pens, a hole in the pens let some 80,000 salmon escape. 

Now, some 25 environmental groups have signed a petition for marine fish farming to be banned. 

Read more: 80,000 Farmed Salmon Unaccounted For

Citing the potential impact on both the environment and wild fish populations, the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) is levelling a fine of ISK 120 million [USD 857,700; EUR 819,200] against Arnarlax.

Authorities estimate Iceland’s wild salmon population at around 50,000 fish, meaning that the recent escape could have potentially severe consequences, including both increased competition for food, and the possible spread of diseases and parasites from the high-density farm fish.

Aquaculture has exploded in recent years, with marine fish farming trying to supply both domestic and international demand for salmon. In 2015, marine fish farming produced around 3,000 tonnes annually. In 2021, marine fish farming in Iceland produced some 46,000 tonnes of salmon, a 15-fold increase.

Icelandic aquaculture is now a major industry. However, many environmental organisations are concerned that the quick growth of this industry has come at an environmental cost, with the recent Arnarlax incident just being the most recent.

In addition to calling for the government to draft a resolution for the ban of marine fish farming, the recent petition has also called for increased protections for the 2,250 farms that rely on income from salmon fishing in rivers. These farms also rely on the reputation of Icelandic nature as pristine, and should Iceland’s wild fishing stocks be depleted or changed, it is not clear whether these farms could still operate.

There is also another dimension to the marine fishing question, namely that of foreign investment in Iceland. Many marine fish farming concerns are foreign, largely Norwegian, and environmentalists have called on the government to protect Icelandic nature from the effects of foreign capital.

Read the full statement here.

Arion Bank and PCC Conclude Talks Over Sale of Silicon Plant

Stakksberg Silicon Plant Helguvík.

Arion Bank and PCC BakkiSilicon have concluded their talks over the sale of the silicon plant in Helguvík.

The fate of the Reykjanes silicon plant has been up in the air since the 2018 bankruptcy of former owner United Silicon, with many local residents concerned about the environmental impact of the facility. In wake of the talks ending, Arion Bank has cancelled the utility contract with Landsvirkjun, most likely meaning that the plant is now slated to be repurposed or possibly relocated.

Since the bankruptcy, extensive renovations to the plant were planned, with increased sustainability a major priority. There has been some interest in investors acquiring the plant, and Arion Bank has looked for potential buyers with experience in the industry.

Since the beginning of this year, Arion Bank has been in talks with PCC, an international silicon manufacturer with a facility in Bakki, near Húsavík in North Iceland. The PCC facility is also notable for its use of green technologies and has existed alongside the Húsavík community without problems.

PCC is said to have presented ambitious renovation plans for the Helguvík plant, but despite this, talks have fallen through, and Arion is now looking to sell and repurpose the facility.

Benedikt Gíslason, director of Arion Bank, stated to Vísir: “The story of the Helguvík silicon plant is well-known. We consider it our duty to make the best use of the infrastructure and everything that has been invested into it. We’ve looked to all stakeholders, including the residents of Reyjanesbær, who were negatively impacted by its operation.”

Read the official statement from Arion Bank here.

SGS Signs New Contract with SA, Causing Controversy

sgs trade union iceland

A new short-term contract has been reached between SGS, one of Iceland’s larger trade unions and SA, the Federation of Icelandic Employers. The agreement was reached on Saturday, December 3, between 17 of SGS’s member organisations and SA. Notably, Efling, SGS’s largest member organisation, was not a signatory to the agreement.

Rising interest rates have complicated wage negotiations between many of Iceland’s trade unions and SA, with short-term contracts seen as a compromise to cope with the immediate impact of inflation and interest rates, without locking unions and employers into longer-term contracts that may not be suited to economic conditions in the traditional three-year period.

The short-term contract will be valid from November 2022 to the end of January 2024. It includes a flat minimum raise, as well as more holidays and adjustments for inflation.

Read more: VR Leaves Negotiating Table

However, the recent SGS contract has come under heavy criticism.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, acting chairperson of the Confederation of Iceland Labour after Drífa Snædal’s resignation earlier this year, stated that the agreement was not suitable for craftsmen. He expressed his wish that the trade unions would stand together during the negotiating process, but that the inconclusive Confederation of Labour Congress earlier this year caused many fault lines to form within the Icelandic labour movement.

“As I said after the congress,” stated Kristján to RÚV, “I believed that we could take positive steps forward to strengthen the union. Just like our congressional elections are supposed to do. But it didn’t work, so this is what it’s come to. What we need to do is work on our internal issues and find a way forward.” 

Read more: Rising Interest Rates Complicate Upcoming Wage Negotiations

In light of difficult labour market conditions, the current round of wage negotiations was seen by many in the labour movement as a time for solidarity in applying pressure against SA, the employer’s union. The recent agreement between SGS and SA is seen by some as a betrayal of labour solidarity at a time when workers hold more power over their employers than usual.

Sólveig Anna, chairperson of the Efling union, has also been critical of the contract. She stated to RÚV: “We, of course, do not agree to take part in some deception where what people have already won is being simply repackaged and sold back to them.”

Efling is notable as having gone into their negotiations with very ambitious demands.

Along with Sólveig Anna, Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairperson of SGS, and Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairperson of VR, together represent some of the largest labour organisations in Iceland. The SGS contract, however, has driven a divide between these figures.

In a post on social media, Vilhjálmur stated his side of the case, saying that he was “saddened to see people he considered friends stab him in the back.” He also accused other members of the labour movement of leaking details of the contract to complicate the agreement, and of treating the recent agreement “as if a crime had been committed.”