Construction Begins on Country’s Largest Land-Based Aquaculture Facility

Construction has begun on what will become the largest land-based aquaculture facility in Iceland, Vísir reports. The company, Landseldi ehf. (also known in English as Deep Atlantic Salmon Project) bases its operations in Þorlákshöfn, South Iceland and eventually plans to raise 40,000 tons of salmon annually. It is also committed to utilizing all of the farm’s biproducts, or sludge, as a rich, “biologically perfect” fertilizer.

Founded in 2017 by entrepreneurs with experience in aquaculture, the construction industry, geothermal energy, and finance, Landeldi, ehf. says its mission is no less than to “inspire the global transition to fully sustainable food production, use terraforming aquaculture to rear an abundance of salmon on land, fertilize the earth, and regenerate the climate.” While fish farming in sea pens has been criticised for its environmental impact, fish farming in tanks on land eliminates many problems such as the possibility of farmed salmon mixing with wild fish and pollution from waste gathering on the ocean floor. Such operations require more energy, but Landeldi claims that Iceland’s geothermal energy can keep the production carbon-neutral and that 100% of the water used in its facility is renewable and sourced from boreholes in its ownership.

Will bring 170 new jobs to booming Þorlákshöfn

Landeldi’s current expansion is part of a three-phase plan. As the company’s website explains, their “production quantity will double every two years. Starting at 5,000 tons in 2022 it will have grown to at least 20,000 tons by 2027.”

The current phase will will create 170 new jobs in the town, which has itself seen enormous expansion in recent years, not least due to a local boom in land-based fish farming. When Landeldi began its first construction phase in 2021, three other companies were developing land-based aquaculture facilities there as well.

“The main construction will be of some 150 to 160 tanks, which will be carried out for a cost of around ISK 70 billion [$4.85 million; €4.59 million] over the next 10 years,” says Rúnar Þór Þórarinsson, Landeldi’s head of sustainability and development. “It’s a really big project and we’re well underway. We’ve had a hatchery at Öxnalækur [a land-based aquaculture farm not far from Þorlákshöfn], where we completely renovated the facilities, and which we bought as soon as the environmental assessment was done. We’ve got salmon in seawater tanks in Þorlákshöfn—big tanks, 15-20 m [49-65 ft]—and we’re building 25 and 30-meter [82 and 98-ft] tanks this year.”

‘The environmental friendliness of land-based aquaculture is close to our hearts’

Þorlákshöfn is particularly well-situated for land-based aquaculture, says Rúnar Þór. “The conditions are unique there because we’ve got the sea, which Iceland itself filters for us. The strata are quite permeable, alternating between sand and [porous] rock, [which started out as lava] in volcanic eruptions 7,000 – 20,000 years ago. And the sea cleans out parasites, plastic particles, and other things that can harm the fish.” (See a more detailed description of this process on the Landeldi website, in English, here.)

Landeldi is also particularly proud of the unique system it has developed to utilize all of its facilities’ biowaste.

“The environmental friendliness of land-based aquaculture is close to our hearts,” says Rúnar Þór. “This is in our DNA as a company. We intend to collect the fish manure and work with other fish farms to utilize it for the good of the land and support agriculture with fertilizer, biochar, and compost production by any means necessary.”

Thor the Walrus Takes a Break in Breiðdalsvík

Though no strangers to welcoming visitors to their picturesque hamlet, the residents of the East Iceland village of Breiðdalsvík received an entirely different kind of tourist on Friday morning. Austurfrétt reports that a walrus decided to sun itself on the village dock all day and rest up after what was, presumably, a very long swim. And, as the BBC later reported, the pooped-out pinniped was actually a celebrity on the sly: Thor the Walrus, who spent his winter traveling around the UK. So far this year, he’s visited the Netherlands and France and may have traveled from as far as the Canadian Arctic to get to Breiðdalsvík.

Walruses generally arrive on Icelandic shores from Greenland, which, depending on their point of departure, is a minimum of 300 km [186 mi] away. They are also known to regularly swim over from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Over the last few years, East Iceland has received a handful of walruses in its fjords. One such sighting occurred last year, on June 17, Iceland’s National Day, when a walrus appeared in the town of Reyðarfjörður. The animal had previously been chipped with a GPS device and had swum over from the Faroe Islands. And in September, the walrus known as Wally appeared in Höfn in Southeast Iceland having swum from Cork, Ireland.

Image courtesy of Arnar Snær Sigurjónsson

Fully grown male walruses can weigh around 900 kgs [1984 lbs] and be up to three m [9.8 ft] long. From pictures showing the length of its tusks, local biologists were able to determine that the walrus was either a young male or a female. British Divers Marine Life Rescue, an organization that had encountered the animal in the UK, was eventually able to identify Thor from his markings, specifically “pale patches on the animal’s foreflippers.” They confirmed that Thor is between three and five years old.

Although no walruses live in Iceland today, these animals were likely prevalent in Iceland in the old days, says said Skarpheiðin G. Þórisson, a biologist at the East Iceland Research Centre.. However, they were probably hunted to extinction here by the Vikings, for whom they would have been an important food source.

See Also: The Disappearance of the Icelandic Walrus (September 2019)

It’s important that people take care around these animals when they appear in human habitations. Walruses may be particularly sensitive when tired or disoriented, and are prone to lash out if they feel threatened. These animals may appear to be slow-moving, but on land, they can actually move about as fast as a running person. And they are, of course, capable of inflicting a great deal of damage with their powerful tusks. Residents in the seaside resort of Scarborough in the UK were particularly gracious hosts when Thor was in their midst, opting to cancel the town’s New Year’s fireworks display so as not to disturb their guest.

Image courtesy of Arnar Snær Sigurjónsson

On Friday, police asked people in Breiðdalsvík to keep a minimum of 20 m [65 ft] away from Thor for the animal’s safety, as well as their own. Dockworkers did put frozen herring out for their guest, but it didn’t seem to have any appetite. Many people also wanted to take pictures of the walrus, but they had to do so from a distance.

“We closed the gangway so people didn’t get too close,” said Bjarni Stefán Vilhjálmsson, who works for the local municipality. “We got here around 10 to do some work on the dock and that’s when we noticed him. He’d just gotten here.”

The walrus was still in the village when Bjarni spoke to reporters and he was able to describe the animal’s current mood: “He sort of raises himself up and growls if you get too close, he’s still really disoriented. Hopefully, he’ll just stay calm until he leaves. I don’t expect anything will drive him away. It’s no real bother, there’s obviously enough room for the boats that are here now. It remains to be seen if he’ll leave once the weather gets worse, but as long as it’s sunny and mild, I think he’ll probably hang out all day.”