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.

Record Numbers of Pink Salmon Caught

humpback salmon iceland

Iceland’s Marine Research Institute has issued a report on salmon and trout catches in 2021. 339 pink salmon were reported, an all-time record.

Pink salmon, also called humpback salmon for the prominent bump males develop during their spawn migration, is native to the Pacific ocean and is considered an invasive species in Iceland.

Some 323 pink salmon were caught by anglers, and 16 were caught in nets.

In total, 36,461 salmon catches were registered last year, with 53.7% of them released and 46.3% of them landed. The total catch is recorded as 46,832kg.

In the second half of the 20th century, the fish was stocked in Russian streams. After this introduction, the pink salmon has made its way around the arctic region to the North Atlantic, and the species has been recorded not just in Iceland, but also throughout the UK and Ireland as an invasive species. Environmentalists are concerned that the fish may disrupt native habits and compete with other species for food.

New Salmon Species Could Establish Itself in Iceland

humpback salmon iceland

Pink salmon could become a new commercial species in Iceland, RÚV reports. More and more of the fish is being caught in Iceland’s rivers, where it is known to have spawned. Experts believe it is likely the juveniles have survived.

Pink salmon are also known as humpback salmon due to the distinctive hump developed by males of the species during their spawning migration. The fish have a two-year breeding cycle. In the summer of 2017, 70 pink salmon were recorded in fishing logs in major fishing rivers. Pink salmon have been caught across the country, including in the Sog and Ölfusá rivers in Southwest Iceland; Miklavatn lake and Norðurá river in North Iceland; and Fögruhlíðará in East Iceland.

Fishermen expect to see more of the so-called “humpies” this year. “Based on what you hear, both on social media and other ways, I would say it was likely not fewer and maybe more than we saw in 2017,” says Guðni Guðbergsson, department head at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute.

Guðni says pink salmon has spawned in Iceland, but it is not yet confirmed that the spawning was successful. It is not known whether the fish could start breeding regularly and successfully in Iceland, but Guðni believes it to be likely, based on how the species has moved through Russia and Norway. “The spread seems to be heading further south along the Norwegian coast. So we could expect it, yes,” Guðni stated.

Classified as invasive in Europe

Pink salmon’s native habitat is in Pacific and Arctic coastal waters and rivers ranging from Northern California to Korea, Japan, and Siberia. After the fish were introduced to rivers of the White Sea and Barents Sea, they spread into Europe, where Guðni says pink salmon have been classified as an invasive species. There’s not much to be done, he says, other than monitor the fish’s progress in Iceland and its potential effects, “But certainly this will change the fauna we have here in our rivers among fish stocks.”