Farmed Salmon Caught in Rivers Across Northwest Iceland

aquaculture farm iceland

Escaped farmed salmon may be swimming in at least eight salmon fishing rivers in Northwest Iceland and the Westfjords. Farmed salmon pose a threat to the survival of wild salmon in Iceland. Two holes were found on a salmon farm net in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords earlier this month. Authorities are conducting DNA analysis to determine whether fish caught in the rivers came from the Patreksfjörður farm.

Risk of genetic mixing

“Just in the last few days the reports have been pouring in and we seem to have at least eight confirmed cases, in eight different fishing areas, and that is a serious matter. And it remains to be confirmed through samples and research if or where these farmed salmon are from, but these are experienced anglers and guides who have handled these fish and it seems quite clear that this is the case,” Gunnar Örn Petersen, the CEO of The Federation of Icelandic River Owners (Landssamband veiðifélaga) told RÚV.

Gunnar says the salmon that have been caught are similar in size to those that were in the salmon farm in Patreksfjörður, though they could be fry that escaped from the sea pen in Arnarfjörður in 2021. He called the situation the environmental disaster that the federation has warned of since open-net fish farms began operating in Iceland.

“Whether we are talking about the diseases or massive death [of fish in the farms] or salmon lice beyond all limits and now it seems to be happening right here in front of your eyes that genetic mixing is happening. And genetic mixing is irreversible damage that no countermeasures can prevent and that we can’t reverse. It is therefore clear that open-net sea farming will be the final blow for Icelandic salmon stocks if the government doesn’t take the reins.” As many as 3,500 salmon may have escaped from the Patreksfjörður farm, which is owned by company Arctic Sea Farm.

Escaped salmon not unexpected, says fisheries spokesperson

Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland, stated that escaped salmon in Icelandic rivers were “not unexpected. The fact that salmon enter a salmon fishing river does not mean genetic mixing,” she argued. “The fact that salmon mixes with wild salmon in some cases does not mean that the wild population is endangered. This has to be a sustained significant situation not just for a year but for decades,” she stated in a Kastljós interview.

Heiðrún says that the risk assessment of genetic mix states that the percentage of farmed salmon in Icelandic rivers can go up to 4% without endangering the wild salmon populations. According to Heiðrún, the percentage across Iceland is currently 0.09%. Gunnar Örn argued that the percentage of farmed salmon in some smaller rivers has, however, reached 4%, “and of course, we believe that those salmon stocks are also important.”

Minister’s 30-Point Plan for Fisheries Stirs Controversy

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has unveiled a comprehensive report proposing thirty key legislative changes for Iceland’s fishing industry. The report has met with criticism from industry stakeholders, Vísir reports.

Analysing challenges and opportunities

Last year, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, appointed working groups to analyse challenges and opportunities in the fishing industry. The report aimed to foster greater public harmony regarding the use of the resource. The upshot is a report entitled Our Natural Resource (Auðlindin okkar), which was unveiled yesterday.

The report puts forth thirty key legislative proposals that touch on environmental, social, and economic aspects of the fishing industry. Some notable recommendations include the maintenance of the quota system, the introduction of a resource clause to the constitution, simplification of fishing quota fees, and ensuring that maximum ownership of fishing companies aligns with competition law. The report also suggests bolstering transparency, tightening penalties for discards, and advocating more decentralised ownership in shipping companies, Vísir reports.

Increases fishing quota fees

Minister Svavarsdóttir announced that the report will serve as the foundation for a new bill focusing on the use and management of fishing resources. A special emphasis will be placed on the environment.

“Our primary focus is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and catalysing the transition to green energy within the fishing industry. Second, we aim to enhance transparency, making it clear who owns and manages these fishing companies. Financially speaking, I plan to propose an increase in fishing quota fees, aligning them with our broader fiscal policy. Additionally, I suggest experimenting with an auction-based approach for certain quotas beyond the general regional catch quota. On the social front, I advocate for an overhaul of existing systems. And lastly, this initiative proposes the inclusion of a resource provision in the constitution,” Svandís stated.

Dissatisfaction with increase

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland, expressed her discontent, stating the minister’s proposals didn’t align with the initial objectives of the working groups.

“Firstly, the advisory committees’ initial work made no mention of raising fishing quota fees or auctioning off quotas. Yet, these seem to be the main points the minister is emphasising while introducing new bills in Parliament. I find this focus rather strange,” Heiðrún commented.

Not much good, a lot of bad – and a lot that’s even worse

Örvar Marteinsson, Chair of SSU (the Association of Small Fishing Companies), was even more scathing in his assessment.

“I think it almost constitutes an attack; there’s not much good, a lot of bad – and a lot that’s even worse. Companies that register on the market will be given preferential treatment, which will only be the very largest, and this will harm the family businesses in rural Iceland once again, which are constantly being forgotten,” Örvar remarked.

Whaling Suspension Inauspicious for Coalition Partnership

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

In a panel discussion on Vísir yesterday, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated that the temporary ban on whaling was inauspicious for the partnership between the coalition parties. A legal opinion commissioned by Fisheries Iceland has concluded that the decision to temporarily halt whaling goes against the law.

“A huge political decision”

Yesterday morning, the leaders of the three governing parties were invited to a panel discussion on Vísir. The leaders discussed the recently released report on the sale of Íslandsbanki; the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries’ decision to stop whaling; and immigration affairs.

Regarding the suspension of whaling, Bjarni Benediktsson stated that the decision had surprised him: “We’ve been clear in our conviction that the decision should be reconsidered.”

Bjarni emphasised that the issue did not simply revolve around economic or animal welfare issues; there was a tradition of whaling in Iceland and putting an end to it amounted to “a huge political decision.” Bjarni noted that the decision, as a political issue, should have gone before the parliament. “I think it’s a very strange turn of events that it happens like this a day before whaling was supposed to start.”

Bjarni also noted that, during the formation of the coalition government, the three parties had discussed whether an agreement could be reached on putting an end to whaling – but no such agreement was reached. “When whaling is stopped in this manner, I am alarmed; I am not satisfied.”

A difference of opinion

Bjarni further noted that the position of the Left-Green Movement was that whales should not be hunted; the Left-Green Movement believed that it was inhumane to kill whales so it was not exactly the methodology that was at issue. “I have a feeling it’s not just about the whaling methods; I have a feeling it’s about whaling itself.”

“How are you going to consider the welfare of a whale you’re going to kill?” Bjarni asked.

Finally, the Finance Minister did not rule out the possibility that the whaling issue would affect the partnership of the coalition parties. When the panel’s moderator, Heimir Már Pétursson, asked if the issue would affect the continuation of the government cooperation, Bjarni refused to say. “But I don’t think this is particularly auspicious for our partnership in governance.”

Stands with Svandís’s decision

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responded to Bjarni’s comments by saying that she stood by Svandís’ decision. “First of all, these three parties have different views on whaling. Regardless, the minister received a formal opinion from a professional council on animal welfare. Having received this opinion, it would have been almost impossible for the minister not to act.”

Legal opinion finds the ban “unconstitutional”

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland (SFS), discussed a legal opinion that SFS recently commissioned from the law firm LEX.

Heiðrún stated that the legal opinion had found that Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision to temporarily stop whaling was unlawful. Heiðrún called for further justification from the Minister.

“We have said from the beginning that this unceremonious and unprecedented decision by the minister goes against the law, and now there is a legal opinion that substantiates our claim,” Heiðrún told RÚV.

“The legal opinion confirmed that the minister went against the freedom of employment and property rights provisions of the constitution; went against proportionality; went against the so-called code of governance; and, during the conduct of the council of specialists, the provisions of the administrative law were not followed.”

When asked if SFS intended to take the case further, Heiðrún replied that she hoped that the opinion would lead to the minister providing a more thorough explanation of her legal rationale. Over a week ago, SFS requested documents detailing the basis of the decision.

“We still haven’t received any word on these documents. As a result, I’m concerned that the preparation of this decision was poor and reprehensible, which is why it’s imperative for a well-reasoned legal opinion to be published in support of the minister’s far-reaching decision.”

EU to Threaten Sanctions Against Iceland and Greenland Over Mackerel Dispute

The Chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee Chris Davies has stated that the EU might take action against Iceland and Greenland if the countries won’t back down from increasing their mackerel catch unilaterally. According to Davies, the committee will convene early next month to discuss sanctions and Icelandic officials will be invited to the meeting. Icelandic fisheries officials claim the threats are a surprising waste of energy that could be spent negotiating and that excluding Russia from the sanctions is cowardly.

Read more about: Contentious Mackerel Quota Negotiations

Iceland intends to increase its share of mackerel from 108,000 tonnes to 140,000 tonnes, while Greenland intends to increase its quota by 18 %, to just over 70,000 tonnes. Davies has called these plans “despicable”. Davies told I News, “ “I think it’s despicable. This isn’t the way partnerships work. The whole point is that stocks are shared fairly.”

He went on to say: “I will meet the European Commission on 4 September to discuss taking action. We don’t want a repeat of the cod wars. We want to understand how to work together. But we will press ahead with sanctions to protect our interests if need be. It’s on the agenda.”

Unfair that Iceland should shoulder all the responsibility  

The Ministry of Fisheries replied to RÚV earlier this month that Iceland was being kept from the mackerel quota negotiations as the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands were making all the decisions on the future of the mackerel stock. Repeated attempts to reconcile and Iceland’s willingness to negotiate hadn’t been successful. Furthermore, the ministry stated that Iceland’s mackerel fishing was both justified and responsible. “Fishing more than is advised by scientists is a serious matter but the responsibility can’t be shouldered entirely by Iceland. It’s an unfair demand that one state unilaterally decreases fishing.”

Excluding Russia from sanctions shows lack of courage

Kristján Freyr Helgason, chairman of the Icelandic delegation to the Fisheries Committee, pointed out in an interview with RÚV that it’s surprising that Russia is to be exempt from these intended sanctions. In addition, it’s strange to accuse Iceland of irresponsible fishing when the EU and the two states caught twice the advised amount of mackerel.

Kristján claims that the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands have kept Iceland from negotiations on mackerel quotas for five years and only allotted a small share of the quota to the countries outside their agreement.

“They’ve taken a very hard stance. They renewed the agreement last year without changes and without accepting new parties to the negotiations. They keep leaving 15.6%, which, according to their decision, amounts to 102,000 tonnes this year. That’s nowhere near enough for the three parties that are left, the coastal states of Iceland and Greenland and the fishing nation of Russia. It’s furthermore surprising that they only intend to introduce sanctions against Iceland and Greenland, as Russia announced July 18 that they would increase their quota by 16500 tonnes. It doesn’t show a lot of courage to threaten Iceland and Greenland but leave Russia out of it.” Kristján stated.

Threats are a waste of energy

Accusing Iceland of irresponsible fishing is a long shot, according to Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. Threatening Iceland with sanctions over mackerel fishing is an anachronism and that energy would be put to better use by negotiating. Iceland won’t be left out while other nations fish from the mackerel stock they share.

In response to Davies’ threat, Kristján stated, “I’ve invited the good MP to visit Iceland and go over our arguments and get to know our side of the issue. I haven’t received any response to my invitation, but I assume it will be accepted, as in my mind, it’s an anachronism to spend time arguing and making threats when you can focus that energy into negotiations.”

He went on to say, “It’s interesting that an EU spokesperson makes these accusations, as, unlike Iceland,  they aren’t exactly known for responsible fisheries management.”

One man’s opinion

The threat of sanctions is surprising to the director of Fisheries Iceland Jens Garðar Helgason as Iceland hasn’t been invited to negotiate the quotas along with the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands. “I’m certain this would affect Icelandic fisheries noticeably. Even if [Davies] is making these suggestions, it still has to go through the whole process of the EU. So, at a glance, it looks to me like one man’s opinion and he’s going to try to make this happen. But I’m certain that the party nations and the EU will agree on how to split the quota and this might nudge people to get down to the negotiating table. I hope it will.” Says Jens.