MAST Files Complaints Against Tourists’ Dog Imports to Iceland

traditional farm iceland

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has reported three cases of illegal dog importation by tourists in aeroplane passenger cabins to the police. A previously undetected parasite was found in one of the dogs during a health inspection.

A previously undetected parasite

As noted on its website, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has filed three complaints with the police regarding the illegal importation of dogs.

These incidents involve three separate cases where tourists contravened animal importation laws by bringing their dogs into the country in the passenger cabins of aeroplanes. The transportation of the dogs into the country was not discovered until MAST received a notification from authorities at the Keflavík International Airport as the travellers checked in for their flights out of the country after a few days’ stay with their dogs.

MAST did not permit departure until the dogs had undergone a health inspection and sampling at the owners’ expense. In one of the cases, a parasite not previously detected in the country was identified. According to MAST, the dog had no contact with other animals during its stay in the country, and due to the cold weather conditions, MAST believes it is unlikely that any worms/eggs would have survived if the owner had not cleaned up after the dog.

“Under the laws governing the importation of animals, it is forbidden to bring any kind of animals and their genetic material into the country. The reason for this ban is to protect the existing animals in the country as well as people from infectious diseases and parasites that may be introduced with the importation of animals. Exemptions from this ban are only permitted under strict conditions and with a special permit from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority. The laws state that a monetary fine will be imposed for violations of these provisions.”

Violations taken seriously

As noted on its website, MAST takes the illegal importation of animals very seriously, given the strict regulations in place due to the risk of introducing animal diseases, and has referred these cases to the police.

The aim of a recent amendment to the regulation on the importation of dogs and cats – which now prohibits the transportation of those animals in the passenger cabin of aeroplanes – is to prevent such illegal imports of animals where passengers could previously transport their pets undetected on flights to Iceland and through Keflavík International Airport.

Administrative Fine Imposed on Hvalur After Welfare Law Breach

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Iceland’s only whaling company has been fined ISK 400,000 ($2,900 / €2,700) for violating animal welfare laws by delaying a necessary follow-up shot on a fin whale in September of 2023. This breach of regulations led to a temporary suspension of the company’s whaling activities last year.

Fin whale shot outside designated target area

On September 14, the operations of a whaling vessel owned by Iceland’s sole whaling company, Hvalur hf, were temporarily halted due to alleged breaches of animal welfare laws. The suspension followed an incident on September 7 where a crew member shot a fin whale “outside the designated target area,” resulting in the animal not dying immediately. The whale was subsequently shot again nearly half an hour later.

Recent regulations mandate an immediate follow-up shot if the initial attempt does not result in the animal’s death. The vessel was docked for eight days following this incident, during which representatives from Hvalur hf. made improvements to the ship to obtain permission to resume hunting.

A statement on the website of the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) notes the following: “The company violated animal welfare laws during whale hunting by allowing thirty minutes to pass between the first and second shots. The animal died a few minutes after the second shot. According to the regulations on whale hunting, a follow-up shot must be carried out immediately if the animal does not die from the first shot. The administrative fine is ISK 400,000 ($2,900 / €2,700).”

Other companies also fined

Other companies also received administrative fines, including an ISK 160,000 ($1,200 / €1,000) fine imposed on a slaughterhouse in Southwest Iceland for leaving a pig with a broken leg in a slaughter pen over an entire weekend before it was slaughtered, an ISK 120,000 ($870 / €800) fine for delaying the veterinary care of a sick cat that was later euthanised, and an ISK 418,000 ($3,000 / €2,800) fine on an aquaculture company in East Iceland for improper euthanasia of farmed fish.

As reported in January, Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, citing significant financial losses due to a temporary whaling ban imposed by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir last year. The claim, supported by the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s conclusion that the ban lacked legal basis, seeks compensation for the company and its employees.

Culling, Delousing of Farmed Salmon Ongoing in Westfjords

Salmon Farm.

Sea lice infestations are prompting ongoing culling of farmed salmon in Tálknafjörður, though outbreaks have proven less severe in nearby Arnarfjörður and Dýrafjörður, RÚV reports. A veterinarian with the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has stated that treatments in the latter fjords have been effective, although colder winter temperatures, affecting the salmon’s ability to convalesce, pose challenges.

Sea lice in the southern Westfjords

The culling of farmed salmon severely damaged by sea lice is still ongoing in Tálknafjörður in the southern Westfjords. As noted in an article on RÚV yesterday, there has also been an excessive presence of sea lice in the nearby fjords of Arnarfjörður and Dýrafjörður. In one area of Arnarfjörður, the salmon are beginning to show signs of lice-induced lesions.

Veterinarian Berglind Helga Bergsdóttir from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) does not consider the situation dire enough to necessitate culling. “The situation is much better in both Arnarfjörður and Dýrafjörður. It’s not really comparable,” Berglind told RÚV yesterday. In Arnarfjörður, lice cleansing with hot water has been completed and has proven effective. Elsewhere in Arnarfjörður and in Dýrafjörður, medications are being used to rid the salmon of sea lice.

The treatment, however, is a race against time. As noted by RÚV, the intervention becomes more problematic for the fish as winter progresses. “All treatments lead to some degree of scale loss, and the healing and defences of the fish decrease with the lower sea temperatures,” Berglind concluded.

As noted in a press release from MAST in October: “Medications for sea lice can have negative effects on the ecosystems surrounding fish farms. Experience from neighbouring countries also shows that sea lice can develop resistance to drugs. Therefore, the use of medications in the fight against lice is a remedy that should not be applied except in absolute necessity. Consequently, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority has encouraged companies to seek other methods to control lice infestations.”

Sea Lice Outbreak Claims At Least 1 Million Salmon in Tálknafjörður

Tálknafjörður

An unprecedented outbreak of sea lice in Tálknafjörður has led to the loss, or the need to dispose of, at least one million salmon, affecting local aquaculture firms and prompting the procurement of foreign treatment vessels for the non-medicinal treatment of lice. The Iceland Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) will review the incident with the involved companies to devise future preventive measures, amidst ongoing investigations into the source of the infestation.

One million salmon perished or discarded

At least one million salmon have perished or been discarded due to an uncontrollable outbreak of sea lice in Tálknafjörður in the southern Westfjords. Speaking to Heimildin, Karl Steinar Óskarsson, Head of the Aquaculture Department at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), stated that “no one had seen a sea lice infestation spread like this before.” The outbreak is currently affecting the fish pens of Arctic fish and Arnarlax in Tálknafjörður.

“That’s why they’re all being discarded. Nobody has seen anything like this before. There is a Norwegian veterinarian who has been working in Iceland because of this and he has never seen anything like this in his 30-year career,” Karl Steinar observed.

Karl Steinar added that there was no confirmed information on how the sea lice got into the fish pens operated by the aquaculture companies. Investigators are examining whether wild salmon transmitted the sea lice. However, nothing can be asserted in that regard at the moment.

Bacterial infection compounding lice problem

A press release published on the Food and Veterinary Authority’s website yesterday noted that upon examining the fish from Tálknafjörður it had been discovered that environmental bacteria were infecting the lice-induced wounds, making them significantly worse.

“These wounds lead to a loss in the fish’s ability to maintain essential ion balance in the body. In Tálknafjörður, this caused a portion of the fish to fall ill in a short amount of time. The fish that are now being discarded will be rendered and, among other uses, will contribute to fur animal feed. The fish will not be used for human consumption.”

MAST stated that it would review the incident with the companies, once operations are concluded, to suggest ways to limit such occurrences in the future.

Proliferation of sea lice in Patreksfjörður

The press release further notes that salmon farming companies in the southern part of the Westfjords have struggled to control the proliferation of sea lice in the fish pens in Patreksfjörður since last spring.

Since then, the Food and Veterinary Authority has recommended the concerned companies procure, as soon as possible, foreign treatment vessels for non-medicinal treatment of lice. This includes freshwater treatment, thermal treatment, and flushing. Such treatments kill the lice with little or no environmental impact.

As noted by MAST, efforts were made by the companies in the fall to bring treatment vessels to Iceland, but it seems that the demand for such vessels required more foresight, as they were in high demand. It was not possible to bring a vessel to the country until mid-October. MAST maintains that such a vessel must be stationed in the Westfjords from May through October every year, which is what the companies aim to do, starting in the spring of 2024.

Expanded MAST Capabilities for Aquaculture Monitoring

arnarlax fish farm iceland

MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, is set to receive its own vessels and increased manpower to better oversee fish farming, RÚV reports.

Read more: Minister Booed During Fish Farming Protest 

The decision comes in the wake of recent escapes from aquaculture pens in the Westfjords, in which farmed fish were found to have made their way into Icelandic waterways. The recent incidents have led to increased public awareness of fish farming practices in Iceland, including the pollution of Icelandic fjords through fish waste, antibiotics, and pesticides, and also the danger posed to native fish stocks by farmed salmon. Because of the density in which farmed salmon are raised, they can carry infectious diseases that may harm native fish, in addition to competing with them for food.

Concerns such as these were expressed this Saturday,  October 7, at a rally on Austurvöllur Square. Among the speakers at the protest was Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson. The minister faced vocal criticism for his perceived inaction, but stated to the assembled protestors: “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.”

The recent decision to expand MAST’s regulatory capabilities took place against the background of widespread disapproval of aquacultural methods in Iceland. MAST stated that in addition to the increased capabilities represented by the new boats, the number of MAST employees assigned to monitoring fish farming will also be increased. Until now, there have only been the equivalent of 5.6 full-time workers to oversee fish farming in both the East- and Westfjords.

Read more: Björk Enlists Rosalía in Campaign Against Fish Farming

Karl Steinar Óskarson, department head at MAST, stated to RÚV that they will also see ISK 126 million [$914,000; €867,000] in increased funding.

MAST intends to use this funding to hire six new positions. Currently advertised are roles in digital monitoring and “special oversight” to prevent further escapes like the large-scale escapes that were recorded last year.

MAST additionally plans to acquire two boats, trailers, and monitoring equipment. Karl Steinar stated to RÚV: “We can use these to go out to the pens when we need to. We will not be dependent on the companies, which is crucial for us.”

Authorities have also made use of submarine drones to monitor aquaculture pens, but the new boats and manpower will significantly increase MAST’s capabilities. Karl Steinar continued: “For example, in the Westfjords alone, there are over 100 pens. We have underwater drones that we purchased this year and we can visit the cages we choose and inspect them from below. We can check if repairs have been made to nets, for example, without us being informed, and also continue to monitor the fish.”

Icelandic Whaling CEO Defends Suspended Vessel

Hvalur, whaling company,

In a recent interview with RÚV, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s only whaling company, defended a recent incident that led to the suspension of one of his vessels. Kristján cited mechanical failure and criticised the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) for its lack of expertise and procedural lapses.

Untenable situation

In a recent interview with the news programme Kastljós, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s sole whaling company, addressed questions concerning an incident that resulted in the suspension of operations for one of his whaling vessels.

Kristján explained that the incident on September 7 was accidental, involving a hook entangled in a winch. This mechanical failure left the harpooned whale alive and attached to the hook, with the crew unable to either reel it in or release it. “It was an untenable situation with no better course of action available,” Kristján stated.

He further argued that a video capturing the incident was misleading. “The footage, taken by an inspector from the Directorate of Fisheries, employed by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), utilised zoom features that distorted the actual distance of the whale from the vessel,” Kristján said. He contended that the whale was out of range for immediate euthanisation, making the suspension of the vessel’s activities based on the video unjust.

Kristján criticised MAST’s expertise, stating, “To my knowledge, the organisation lacks individuals with a comprehensive understanding of fishing.” He estimated that approximately 70% of MAST’s staff consists of general office workers and veterinarians. Kristján also claimed that MAST had failed to consult with the Directorate of Fisheries before making the decision to suspend operations, thereby violating its own protocols.

Fulfilling the quota impossible

When questioned about the likelihood of the suspension being lifted with only ten days remaining in the hunting season, Kristján Loftsson responded, “I’m loathe to peer into the brains of MAST’s employees. I refuse to do it.”

Kristján concluded by revealing his intention to apply for a new whaling licence once the current one expires. He also disclosed that the company has thus far hunted fifteen whales, approximately 10% of the total quota of around 160, acknowledging that fulfilling the quota is unlikely. While he confirmed experiencing significant financial losses, he declined to specify the amount.

Whaling Vessel Suspended for Violating Welfare Protocols

Whaling ships

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily suspended the operations of whaling vessel Hvalur 8 for violating animal welfare protocols during a fin whale hunt, Vísir reports. The suspension will remain in place until corrective measures are verified by MAST and the Directorate of Fisheries.

Suspension in effect until corrective measures are adopted

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily halted the operations of the whaling vessel Hvalur 8, citing severe breaches of animal welfare protocols during the capture of a fin whale.

According to a press release on MAST’s website, a monitoring operation revealed that the initial shot fired from Hvalur 8 on September 7 struck a fin whale “outside the designated target area,” resulting in the animal’s failure to expire immediately.

Per newly-established regulations, the animal should have been dispatched with a subsequent shot without delay. However, the follow-up shot was not administered until approximately 30 minutes later, leading to the animal’s death a few minutes thereafter. The delay constitutes a violation of both animal welfare laws and long-line fishing regulations, according to MAST’s statement.

As noted by MAST, the suspension will remain in effect until corrective measures have been implemented and verified by both Mast and the Directorate of Fisheries (i.e. Fiskistofa).

Reindeer Season to Continue as Normal

Reindeer hunting Iceland

Despite recommendations by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board to delay the 2023 reindeer hunting season, Vísir reports that the season will remain unchanged this year.

Reindeer hunting will start on July 15th and cow hunting on August 1st, as in previous years. Reindeer hunting will end September 15th and cow hunting on September 20th. The recommendation by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board was intended for the welfare of reindeer calves, specifically for orphaned calves during the winter. In the Advisory Board’s recommendation, reference was made to Norway, where the hunting season starts later.

Recent findings

However, according to Bjarni Jónasson at the Environment Agency of Iceland, the findings of a recent report did not present sufficient evidence to change the season. In a statement to Vísir, Bjarni said: “A comparison of the average winter mortality rate of calves before and after the protection of calves does not indicate that a higher proportion of motherless calves increases the overall winter mortality rate of calves. By shortening the hunting season and compressing the hunting activities, the hunting pressure on the herds could increase, which could have adverse effects on the animals.”

Bjarni also referred to a recent study from the East Iceland Natural Research Centre. The study found that “there is still no evidence that orphaned calves cannot survive and live through most winters. However, there is a risk that they might have a higher mortality rate than calves that accompany their mothers in harsh years. Such incidents have probably not occurred in the past decade unless very localised.”

Bjarni also repeated that all reindeer hunters are required to have an experienced guide with a valid permit from the Environment Agency. The guide directs the hunter in choosing the animal after observing the herd, allowing hunters to see if the calf is accompanying the cow or not.

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Full House for Meeting on Whaling Decision

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Members of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party demanded at a town hall meeting in Akranes last night, June 22, that Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Fisheries, reconsider her decision to temporarily halt whale hunting. RÚV reports.

The meeting in Akranes was called in response to the recent decision to halt the whale hunting season this year in light of animal welfare concerns. Svandís addressed the reasoning behind the recent decision, acknowledging that people have strong opinions on the matter.

Read More: No Whaling This Summer

“It is always important to base the discussion on facts, genuine knowledge, and reality, but it is natural for people to have strong emotions and heated debates,” the minister stated.

Regarding the short notice of the decision, she explained that she had to quickly assess the potential impact of the advisory board’s recommendations based on the latest report.

Read More: Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling  Ban

“Knowing this, I cannot let the season start, so I made the decision to postpone the beginning in order to attempt to establish better communication with stakeholders and those who are most knowledgeable,” she said.

Teitur Björn Einarsson, representative of the Independence Party, also spoke at the meeting, indicating that the minister’s recent decision may be illegal.

Svandís denied this, referring to the Ministry’s obligation to follow welfare guidelines.