Seabirds Feast on Dead and Dying Herring Skip to content

Seabirds Feast on Dead and Dying Herring

Dead and dying herring on the beaches of Breiðafjörður fjord in west Iceland attract thousands of birds. Forty sea eagles were spotted at Jónsnes. Stench extends from the decaying fish and spreads in the thaw.


Seagulls. Archive photo by Páll Stefánsson.

The situation is blamed on fishing and infection in the herring; the Icelandic Marine Research Institute will investigate the death in January, Fréttablaðið reports.

“There were thousands of seagulls, probably around one hundred ravens but the most magnificent sight was a group of forty sea eagles,” said Jóhann Kjartansson, one of the owners of the land Jónsnes on Snæfellsnes peninsula.

“An incredibly large percentage of the stock gathered there in a small area,” he added. The Icelandic sea eagle stock numbers around 65 couples.

A large part of the Icelandic summer spawning herring stock has resided in Breiðafjörður in the past years. The herring fleet has caught fish there and has been successful in fishing within quota limits issued after an infection came up in the stock.

This year the fishing was limited to Breiðafjörður; the infection hasn’t been as prominent outside the area.

There are two theories as to why there is such a large amount of dead and dying herring on the fjord’s beaches and ocean floor.

One the one hand, that fishermen have been too active in the autumn and, on the other hand, that the infection is to blame. Approximately 30 percent of the herring stock is infected and it is therefore considered the most likely explanation.

“There is a considerable amount of herring decaying on the beaches. It is a sorry situation and continues to worsen. In still weather you see gas bubbles surface; it is if the ocean is boiling. There must be something decaying on the ocean floor,” commented Lárus Hallfreðsson, farmer at Ögur near Stykkishólmur.

Lárus said the seaweed on the beaches is covered in herring oil from which there extends a pungent disgusting smell.

“I find it likely that an infection is partially to blame but no less the fishing of the large ships which came all the way up to the shore to catch herring,” he theorized.

The Icelandic Marine Research Institute is planning a research expedition to Breiðafjörður next month and the Directorate of Fisheries has started taking samples for research.


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