Humpack Salmon Spreads in Iceland, Threatening Local Fish

Humpack salmon, also known as pink salmon, is spreading in Icelandic rivers and threatening local fish species. Anglers caught dozens of humpback salmon in Eyjafjarðará river yesterday, RÚV reports.

The species was first observed in Iceland in 1960. Since 2015, humpback salmon have been increasing in number. It’s believed that they arrived in Iceland from Russia and Norway.

A fisherman noticed a lot of humpback salmon in Eyjafjarðará yesterday and called up the river’s fishing association. “They called out anglers who know the river and they just went to the spot right away where they saw this school and caught nearly 30 fish from it,” he said.

Humpack salmon can be eaten if it is caught at sea but is not good to eat when caught in freshwater. Eyjafjarará is known for its arctic char, whose numbers have decreased in recent years. “If [the humpback salmon] spawns and the fry grow, they are of course competing for food supply with the arctic char fry and the sea bass fry in the river,” Sigmundur Einar Ófeigsson, a board member of the Eyjafjarðará Fishing Association, stated.

Anglers are asked to report to local fishing associations if they spot or catch humpback salmon in Icelandic rivers. Icelandic authorities have enacted a temporary provision that permits fishing associations to fish humpback salmon with seines (nets) until 2025.

Project Aims to Develop Sexless Farmed Salmon

salmon farming fish farming fish farm salmon farm Bíldudalur - Arnarfjörður - Arnarlax - laxeldi

The Marine and Freshwater Institute is attempting to breed a new kind of farmed salmon, that is, one without any sex. RÚV reports that the idea behind this is to prevent farmed salmon from becoming sexually mature and thus being able to spawn with the naturally occurring local salmon population. If this experiment is successful, the result would also be applied to farmed Arctic char populations, 15 – 20% of which reaches sexual maturity before they are harvested.

“This is what’s called gene suppression; there are certain substances that we use on roe and once we do, certain genes that can determine what sex a fish is don’t get expressed. And thus are the fish sexless…,” says Ragnar Jóhannsson, the Institute’s Director of Aquaculture.

This is not considered genetic modification, since the fish’s genetic makeup isn’t touched. Rather, the expression of mRNA, which controls the production of proteins that are connected to sexual maturation. This is done by introducing substrates into cells. The project is being undertaken in collaboration with StofnFiskur, an organization involved in aquaculture breeding and genetics, and the University of Maryland, which holds the copyright on the process.

Ragnar believes the method is more promising than experiments with tri-chromosome triploid fish, as it involves less intervention. “What seems to have been the biggest problems with the tri-chromosome fish is that there have been more deformations and death and that seems to be because they can’t tolerate temperatures that are high or too low as well. And we have more than enough low temperatures here in Iceland.”

The project is still in the testing phase and no firm conclusions are expected for at least three years. “This naturally means that if we can produce fish that are sexless, there won’t be any danger if they get into rivers that they interfere with the naturally occurring fish,” says Ragnar.


Sink Or Swim

Biologist Jóhannes Sturlaugsson in Þingvallavatn with brown trout

“Some things in nature naturally inspire an emotional response. The Þingvallavatn lake brown trout is one of these phenomena. It’s a fantastical, mythical creature,” says biologist Jóhannes Sturlaugsson. For the last two decades, he has studied the brown trout stock in the lake, unique in Iceland and even the world. Trout numbers in the lake are up, after years of decline. That’s good news, but the same can’t be said for another of Jóhannes’ research subjects: wild salmon, currently under threat.

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

aquaculture farm iceland

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.”

Best Arctic Char Fishing at Þingvallavatn Lake in Years

The Arctic char catch has been extremely good at Þingvallavatn lake this year, RÚV reports. In fact, there hasn’t been as good a fishing season at the lake since the turn of the century.

In spite of this year’s dismal weather, fisherman who have been willing to be patient have been handsomely rewarded for their efforts this year. “People are getting a lot of four, five, and six-pound char this year,” reported Ingimundur Bergsson, who oversees the fishing permit program. “…There’s a much higher proportion of bigger fish now, so we’ve been having something of a feast here.” This comes as a particular relief to those who had worried that the char stock was in decline after several poor seasons.

Fisherman permitted to use flies, jigs, and worms, but Ingimundur says that flies are the best.