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Photo: Open-net salmon farms in the Westfjords..

Open-Net Fish Farming an “Attack on Rural Residents”

The presidents of ten fishing companies in Northwest Iceland have come together to censure open-net fish farming in their district, calling the burgeoning industry “an attack on rural residents in the Húnavatn district.” Kjarninn reports that the presidents wrote an open letter to members of parliament who represent this constituency, pointing out that as many as 280 farms in Húnavatn earn income from salmon fishing in local rivers, and many also earn income from river-fished Arctic char as well.

The letter states quite emphatically that open-net fish farming has the potential to chip away at the foundation of the well-established and extensive river fishing industry which rural residents depend upon, as well as break up the cooperative fishing system, which ensures that income earned from fishing is distributed to all residents in the region.

Icelandic parliament passed a law in early October which gives the Minister of Fisheries authority to grant provisional licenses for fish farming. Fish farming is a growing industry in Iceland, but open-net fish farms have been a topic of much debate in the country due to their impact on the surrounding marine environment.

The operational licenses of salmon farming companies Arctic Sea Farm and Fjarðarlax for a combined 17,500 tonnes of fish in open-net farms in the Westfjords were revoked in early October by the Environmental and Natural Resources Board of Appeal. Nature conversation groups and landowners had brought charges against the licenses to the board, citing concerns of pollution and the spreading of farmed salmon into fishing rivers around the country. These concerns were well-founded: earlier this season, three farmed salmon were caught in two rivers in the Westfjords.

“Farmers and others who hold fishing rights have committed to protecting, maintaining, and associating this natural resource with the respect it deserves, such that our salmon fishing rivers have the best possible reputation,” read the letter written by the fishing company presidents. “Furthermore, there have been considerable funds invested in the improvement of fishermen’s facilities, such as good accommodations in fishing lodges and improved access to fishing areas by way of new road construction. The earnings from salmon and Arctic char fishing have for many generations been an integral pillar alongside agriculture for numerous farmers in the country’s rural areas. If the value [of this resource] is reduced, it will cut the livelihood of families around the country off at the knees. A legal framework related to farmers’ cooperatives in connection with fishing rivers would ensure that income is distributed democratically within rural areas.”

“This value is not only jeopardized by the inevitable genetic blending that happens when farmed fish of Norwegian origin travel up our rivers,” continues the letter. “[T]he damage is done as soon as farmed fish are caught in rivers. The reputation of the fishing rivers in question will suffer setbacks and the value of their catch will be reduced.”

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