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.
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.