Minister Booed During Fish Farming Protest Last Saturday

Laxeldi Austurvöllur sjókví Lax

A protest against open-sea aquaculture drew a significant crowd at Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík on Saturday. Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, who was booed, acknowledged the need for action and expressed appreciation for the public’s defence of Icelandic nature.

Insecticide poured over dead fish

On Saturday, Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík became the focal point of a protest against open-sea aquaculture in Iceland. Farmers and landowners from across the country converged at the square, with a procession originating from the University of Iceland’s parking area leading up to the main event at Austurvöllur.

The event featured several speakers, including fisherman Árni Pétur Hilmarsson and biologist Jóhannes Sturlaugsson. During his address, Sturlaugsson emphatically stated, “We all protest!” – a reference to a protest of Danish imposition in the 19th century led by Independence leader Jón Sigurðssons – a sentiment that garnered considerable applause from the attendees.

Musician Bubbi Morthens set the tone for the protest by performing two songs to open the event. Inga Lind Karlsdóttir took on the role of moderator, guiding the event and addressing the gathered crowd.

As reported by Vísir, the protest witnessed an unexpected turn of events towards its conclusion. Inga Lind directed the protestors to pour insecticide over Austurvöllur and on dead fish, using containers that the organisers had placed near the stage; the act was meant to symbolise the numerous instances where poison has been released into the fjords of the country.

Minister booed by protestors

As noted by RÚV, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, the Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate, faced criticism for the government’s inaction regarding salmon farming issues at the protest. He stated that the matter did not fall under the purview of his ministry, acknowledging, however, the challenge posed by the organisers for the authorities to take responsibility, protect nature, and prohibit open-sea aquaculture near the coast.

Following this, Guðlaugur Þór expressed appreciation for the significant turnout at the protest and thanked the public for defending Icelandic nature. There were subsequent calls for the authorities to take similar actions:

“People can criticise me as they wish. But if one looks at what I’ve said and done, perhaps there would be less of it. That’s beside the point, as I’m not the main focus here. That’s evident. Your message is clear, and I thank you for taking the initiative to organise this, for showing up and demonstrating solidarity with Icelandic nature. Actions will be taken based on this, and this meeting truly matters. I sincerely thank you for that,” Guðlaugur Þór remarked.

In an interview with Vísir after his speech, Guðlaugur Þór iterated that aquaculture was not within his purview but acknowledged its significance, referring to the alleged violations of Arctic Sea Farm.

Escaped Farmed Salmon Caught in an Icelandic River

The farmed salmon is larger than the wild salmon, wounded by salmon lice, with torn tails and damaged gill flaps.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1544118445301{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Today Matís, a government-owned, non-profit, independent research company, confirmed by DNA testing that two salmon recently caught in Fífustaðadalsá river in Arnarfjörður fjord were farmed salmon of a Norwegian origin. The fjord is where Iceland’s largest salmon farming company, Arnarlax, keeps their open sea pens and earlier this year, a considerable number of farmed salmon of Norwegian origin escaped their pens. The exact number of the escaped fish couldn’t be established. The salmon caught in the small  Fífustaðadalsá were female and ready to spawn, which could have had devastating consequences for the wild salmon stock in the river.

Female fish about to spawn

Biologist Jóhannes Sturlaugsson has been monitoring fish stocks of three small rivers in Ketildalir valley by Arnarfjörður fjord for four years. The wild stocks in these rivers are very small, which makes it easy to spot any changes. Jóhannes caught every fish in the Fífustaðadalsá river with dip nets, measured, and tagged them, before releasing them. The native spawning stock consisted of twenty salmon and their spawning season was almost over. But in the river, they also caught the two large female fish that looked markedly different. They had large wounds caused by salmon lice, damaged fins and gill flaps, and torn tails: typical characteristics of farmed salmon. Their origin was later confirmed by DNA tests.

“Four farmed salmon have been caught in Icelandic fishing rivers this year. These two make for a marked increase and they are the first confirmed examples of mature farmed salmon about to spawn in an Icelandic river. I think we caught them in the eleventh hour. One would have spawned in a matter of hours and the other in a few days,” Jóhannes says.

Native wild salmon under threat

Asked about what’s at stake if farmed salmon spawn in an Icelandic river, Jóhannes points to Norway as an example. Wild Norwegian salmon is struggling, even though their farmed salmon is a Norwegian stock. “Each river has a special stock of salmon, that has adapted to the environment and evolved for thousands of years, each stock differing slightly in when it migrates to the sea, how long it stays there, how it spawns, how it’s built to jump waterfalls and so on. When you mix foreign DNA into the gene pool the damage is done. The adaptation might disappear, and the worst-case scenario is that the stock goes extinct.”

Jóhannes says there’s even more risk involved. “Farmed salmon spawns later than wild salmon and when doing so can dig up their eggs and replace them with its own, destroying the eggs laid out earlier by native salmon.”

A more detailed interview with Jóhannes can be found in the Dec-Jan issue of Iceland Review, out now. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”107304,107300,107296,107298″ column=”2″ image_size=”full” hover_scenarios=”none”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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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