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.

Icelandic Birch Forests Threatened by Imported Pests

Birch trees in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland

Experts at the Icelandic Forest Service say unclear timber import regulations threaten local birch forests. Imported timber, especially timber that contains bark, may carry insects or pests that are not native to Iceland and could harm or kill Icelandic birch trees.

RÚV reports that an Icelandic company recently imported tree trunks from Poland with the bark still attached. The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority ordered the wood be destroyed or sent back, but the Food and Agriculture Ministry reversed the ruling after it was appealed by the importer. Experts at the Icelandic Forest Service say tree trunks with bark are more likely to carry invasive species and call for stricter regulations on their import.

“Imports probably pose the biggest risk. We import Christmas trees on a large scale every year and all kinds of growth in soil, which is imported with some residue. And we never know what it may be hiding, despite being certified and what that entails,” says Pétur Halldórsson, the Forestry Service’s director of publicity.

Downy birch (Betula pubescens) is the only tree species that naturally forms forests in Iceland. There are few native pests in Iceland, and experts say that local plants could therefore be particularly vulnerable to the arrival of invasive species. Bark beetles, for example, have done significant damage to forests in mainland Europe in recent years and if imported to Iceland, could hurt local birch forests. The beetles breed between the bark and the wood of various tree species, and their larvae feed on living tissues below the bark of the tree, leading to the death of the tree if enough larvae are present. Their presence can also make trees more susceptible to fungal infestation.

“We have gotten two bad pests on birch in the last few years and these pests have no natural predators as of yet,” stated Pétur. “So things are happening and we don’t want worse things to happen.”

Use of Lodgepole Pine in Reforestation Sparks Feud Between Agencies

icelandic forest

The coming merger of the Icelandic Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service has led to a debate over the use of invasive species in reforestation and land reclamation work.

Central to the debate between the two agencies is the place of the lodgepole pine, and whether it belongs in Icelandic forests.

Pinus contorta, with the common name of lodgepole pine, is a species native to the West Coast of North America. It has been introduced into Icelandic forestry in an attempt to help with the reforestation of Iceland, but some warn against negative consequences of invasive species.

Read more: Forests Now Cover 2% of Iceland

 

The Icelandic Forest Service, in their resolutions from the 2022 general meeting, recently condemned what they believed was a campaign against them by the Soil Conservation Service, which publicly critiqued the use of lodgepole pine in Icelandic reforestation attempts.

In their resolutions, the Icelandic Forest Service stated that “the campaign tries to discredit the ambitious and successful work that has been carried out in the most forest-deprived country in Europe and the seventh most forest-deprived country in the world, where natural forests grow on only 1.5% of the country and cultivated forests on only 0.5% of the area of the country. The cultivation of new forests is the most effective weapon in the fight against soil erosion and also one of the most cost-effective methods to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

Read more: Lupine Propagation Threatens Nature Reserve

 

However, the Soil Conservation Service has rejected the suggestion that they have worked against the Icelandic Forest Service by critiquing the use of lodgepole pine.

“The Soil Conservation Service has stated that the first choice for reforestation is Icelandic birch and that local varieties should be used if available,” said Árni Bragason, director of the Soil Conservation Service,in a statement to Fréttablaðið. “Birch has grown in Iceland for thousands of years and is adapted to the conditions here. However, we also know that birch is not necessarily the best tree for all uses.”

Árni has also drawn comparisons with the lupine: “I hope that people will plan the cultivation of the lodgepole pine and its cultivation area so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes we made with the lupine.”

Lupine is a flowering plant native to Alaska and is considered an invasive species by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. Because the lupine is a type of legume, it helps fix nitrogen into the soil and was introduced in Iceland with the hope of aiding in land reclamation. Now, lupines are estimated to cover some 314 km² of Iceland, and some conservationists fear for its impact on native flora.

Read more: Government Publishes Joint Policy on Land Reclamation and Reforestation

 

“Those who work in land reclamation and forestry of course must take responsibility [for the lupine]. Although we acted in good faith at the time, we did not foresee how invasive the species is,” Árni stated.

Árni said he wants to encourage Jónatan Garðarsson, chairman of the Icelandic Forest Service, to present facts instead of repeating what are, in his opinion, empty claims.

“It is good for everyone to know the facts and get out of the echo chamber […] because otherwise there is a risk that such misinformation will come to dominate the discussion.”

Árni has also stated that he has used lodgepole pine as Christmas trees in the last years.

 

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.

Lupine Propagation Threatens Nature Preserve: ‘We want to keep our Icelandic flora’

Lupines may be beautiful, but they’re also an invasive species. RÚV reports that lupine propagation around the Krossanesborgir nature preserve near Akureyri, North Iceland, may well be having a significant—and negative—impact on indigenous plant and animal life.

‘The point of no return’

As Egill Bjarnason explained in his 2018 New York Times article about the ongoing lupine controversy in Iceland, “[t]he blue Nootka lupine are native to North America and a familiar sight in flower gardens there. They have spread wildly in Iceland since their introduction in the late 1970s to halt soil erosion.”

But while the plant does have positive attributes (it’s a free ‘fertilizer factory,’ as Egill explains), and while tourists and even many Icelanders love the plant for its characteristic violet-blue blossoms, it spreads much more easily than originally anticipated and, among other places, has made significant inroads in Iceland’s central highlands, where originally, it was thought it wouldn’t be able to survive.

Locals used to be encouraged to spread the seeds—some villages would even distribute free scoopfuls of seeds at gas stations. But in spring 2018, the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland stopped its seed distribution program after 42 years, with director Arni Bragason remarking of the plant and its impact on the local environment, “We’re at the point of no return.”

Timing is everything

Krossanesborgir was designated a nature preserve in 2004 in order to protect its diverse plant and bird life. But with the encroachment of lupine in the area, this this ecosystem is now endangered, says Jón Ingi Cæsarsson, the former chair of the Akureyri organizational committee.

“All of the undergrowth and moor vegetation is going to vanish and instead, we’ll have these tall, beautiful plants. But that’s not something we want—we want to keep our Icelandic flora, especially in these nature preserves,” he said.

Local officials are aware of the lupine situation and the plant is cut back on a regular basis, including in Krossanesborgir, says Rút Jónsdóttir, Akureyri divisional manager.

“We usually begin [cutting back lupines] around June 15-20,” she explained. Working out the right time to start the mowing is difficult, she continued: too early, and birds will still be nesting in the area; too late, and the lupines will already bloomed. (Timing is everything when it comes to lupine eradication, explains Egill. “Killing the plant is a three- to five-year process that involves cutting them back at the peak of the bloom, when the plant is putting its energies into the flowers and the roots are correspondingly weakest. Mowing down the plants has proved more effective than herbicides.”)

‘It will take off if we don’t rein it in’

The lupine has not yet made significant inroads within Krossanesborgir, but Jón Ingi is nevertheless concerned that it may only be a matter of time. Roughly 30 species of birds nest in the area, he explained, making the area particularly important from a preservation standpoint.

“The lupine is here and is lying in wait and will take off if we rein it in. We’ve seen what happened on Hrísey [a small island in Eyjafjörður, north of Akyreyri, known for its bird life]. The number of breeding birds will most definitely decrease [in Krossanesborgir], just like happened there.”

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.”

Policy Needed to Combat Invasive Plant Species

Foreign plant seeds and pests that are brought into Iceland can cause damage to the Icelandic ecosystem. Plant ecologist Kristín Svavarsdóttir told RÚV that the government needs to develop a strategy to combat invasive species and is particularly concerned about seeds that are inadvertently brought into the country in imported soil.

Kristín says that this problem of invasive species dispersing around areas where soil importation is highest—i.e. cities and towns where there’s a lot of agriculture—is well-known in other countries and it’s the job of the Ministry of the Environment to create a policy to combat this phenomenon in Iceland. “This is classified as one of the largest environmental issues in the world, but we’ve completely ignored it,” she remarked.

The debate always revolves around individual species, Kristín continued, but she believes that the focus should be much broader. “Of course, we need to look at individual species but we also need to set rules and working methods both regarding how we’re going to prevent this and [how to] be aware of what species we’re bringing in—that’s to say intentionally, although of course there will also be species coming in unintentionally, in soil for instance. We’re kind of just letting things happen. It’s carelessness, pure and simple.”