Support for Labelling Farmed Salmon

fish farming iceland

The Consumers’ Association of Iceland (Neytendasamtökin) has recently expressed interest in labelling salmon raised in sea pens, following a similar statement from Norway. The interest in labelling follows in the wake of several recent escapes from aquacultural farms in Iceland which have raised environmental concerns. Such labelling would report the health of the salmon at its time of slaughter.

Interest in Norway to Label Farmed Salmon

The medical history of farm-raised salmon may soon find its way onto Norwegian labels.

Inger Lise Blyverket, head of the Consumer Council in Norway, recently stated to Norwegian state broadcaster NRK that she believes “many consumers would welcome a labelling system for salmon.”

Although salmon is marketed as a premium product, there is no indication on the packaging that the fish may have been sick, she stated. Salmon with various diseases such as gill disorders, parasites, and heart diseases are slaughtered and sold in stores. Inger announced that the Consumer Council intends to end this practice and that it is time for the aquaculture industry in Norway to label salmon according to its health at the time of slaughter.

“Both Norwegian salmon producers and other food manufacturers need to realise that consumers want to know more about the production conditions and animal welfare,” Inger said to NRK.

Like Iceland, Norway has also had an ongoing public debate about farm-raised salmon and aquaculture, including recent mass deaths at one of Norway’s largest aquaculture concerns.

Some have pushed back against the recent suggestions, including Jon Arne Grøttum, Aquaculture Director at the Norwegian Seafood Federation. In an interview with NRK, he stressed that because seafood diseases are not transmitted to humans, such labelling would be unnecessary.

“Everything around us is full of bacteria and viruses; they’re everywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily impact food safety,” Jon stated. “I can’t see that it has any purpose. First, it’s not about food safety. Secondly, it is very difficult to implement: you would have to conduct an examination of each fish, even if you know the cause. Thirdly, it’s a bit strange to introduce this type of labelling for salmon and not for other animal meat production.”

Iceland to Follow Norwegian Example?

Given the recent discourse in Norway, the Consumers’ Association of Iceland has also expressed interest in a similar labelling system for farmed fish in Iceland.

Breki Karlsson, the chairperson of the Consumers’ Association, recently stated to RÚV that he supports the initiative. He stated that consumers have the right to receive information about the origin of food, especially salmon, which has been the subject of recent discussions due to recent escapes and lice infestations.

Berglind Harpa Bergsdóttir, a veterinarian specialist monitoring the health and welfare of farmed fish at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), also stated to RÚV that many diseased fish are slaughtered for human consumption in Iceland. She mentioned a 2021 case of Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), a viral disease that causes severe anaemia in fish. At that time, a notification was sent out by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, both about the outbreak and that some of the fish were used for human consumption.

Berglind reiterated that such viral diseases do not transmit to humans.

Read more about aquaculture and fish farming in Iceland.

MAST Confirm Farmed Salmon Found in Mjólká in Arnarfjörður

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

In a recent report from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), 16 salmon caught in the Mjólká river in the Westfjords were confirmed to originate from farms.

Signs indicate that the salmon originate from open sea farms by Haganes, where a hole in the pen caused part of the stock to escape in August of 2021.

MAST reports that it will re-run the original DNA analysis to confirm its finding, and that they hope to trace the origin of the farmed salmon in better detail.

Of a sample of 32 salmon caught in the Mjólká river, 16 of them likely originated from farms. The other 16 were confirmed to be wild in origin.

The farm in question is owned and operated by Icelandic aquacultural company Arnarlax.

In a statement to RÚV, Karl Steinar Óskarsson, head of MAST’s aquaculture department, stated that “we always take it seriously when there’s a hole in a pen. No diseases have been found in the farmed salmon caught in Mjólká. It’s pretty clear that this fish has escaped. As soon as we have all the facts, we will update this information.”

Escaped farm salmon can pose a risk to local, wild stocks, as aquaculture farms can be breeding grounds for diseases not found in wild salmon. Should farm-raised salmon escape and breed with the wild stock, it could cause larger problems for the local ecosystem.

Iceland’s aquacultural industry has grown rapidly in recent years to meet rising demand for seafood. Such incidents have been recorded already beginning in 2018.

Ambitious Plans to Expand Fish Farming in East Iceland

fish farming iceland

East Iceland’s aquaculture industry is set to expand significantly in the next few years, with more fish farms and a packaging plant in the works in locations such as Djúpivogur and Seyðisfjörður. RÚV reports that Norwegian company Måsøval has acquired a controlling share of aquaculture in the region and is calling for renovations to Egilsstaðir airport that would allow it to export salmon directly from the region to Asia and North America. Some East Iceland residents are, however, unhappy with the planned developments.

Development in Djúpivogur

Norwegian company, Måsøval, has bought a majority share of Fiskeldi Austfjarða from a former (also Norwegian) shareholder. Måsøval already holds majority ownership of Laxar, the other aquaculture company operating in East Iceland, and therefore now controls the majority of aquaculture in the region. This acquisition paves the way for the two companies to collaborate more in the future or possibly even merge.

The two companies already run a joint slaughterhouse for farmed salmon in Djúpivogur, called Búlandstindur, where they have invested in sorting and packaging equipment that processes 20 boxes of fish per minute. Búlandstindur CEO Elís Hlynur Grétarsson says further expansion is planned at the company, which expects to process 12,000 tonnes of salmon this year and 15,000-16,000 next year.

The plant currently has to transport polystyrene boxes from Hafnarfjörður but plans to build a facility in Djúpivogur to make the packaging locally. They also hope to be able to export the salmon from nearby Egilsstaðir airport rather than transporting it across the country to Keflavík as they do now. Transporting the salmon by land to Keflavík “is rather costly, according to Elís, who says “Our biggest dream is that there would be international flights from Egilsstaðir. Especially longer routes such as to America and Asia. All that is needed is to build up the airport in Egilsstaðir. First and foremost, I think the runway needs to be a little longer.” Other seafood companies in the region would no doubt benefit from such a possibility as well.

Seyðisfjörður Residents Oppose Fish Farm in Fjord

Some local residents are not happy with Fiskeldi Austfjarða’s plans to establish more fish farms in the region, RÚV reports. A group of residents in Seyðisfjörður is collecting signatures in opposition to a planned 10,000 tonne salmon farm in the picturesque fjord.

Benedikta Guðrún Svavarsdóttir and Bergný Guðmundsdóttir, who run the hostel Hafaldan in Seyðisfjörður, are behind the petition. They have been making the rounds to collect signatures and say that it has been going well. “The vast majority of people said thank you for coming and signed,” Benedikta stated. “The had informed themselves on the matter and were quite adamant that this was not the future of Seyðisfjörður. Not of benefit to Seyðisfjörður.”

Opposition to the fish farms in Seyðisfjörður centres on their visual impact, which some argue would spoil the experience for the fjord’s many visitors, particularly those who arrive on the Norræna ferry, which connects Seyðisfjörður with the Faroe Islands and Nordic region. “They don’t go together,” Benedikta stated.

Death of 100,000 Farmed Salmon Could Have Been Avoided

salmon farming fish farming fish farm salmon farm Bíldudalur - Arnarfjörður - Arnarlax - laxeldi

Some 570 tonnes of dead salmon have been removed from Arnarlax’s open-net fish farms in the Westfjords, RÚV reports. Nearly 100,000 fish died when cold temperatures forced them to swim further down in their nets and rub up against them. The rubbing creates wounds which eventually lead to the fishes’ death.

Deaths could have been avoided

According to the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), this is not the first time such an incident has occurred in Arnarlax’s farms. In early 2018, farmed salmon died in the same location, Arnarfjörður fjord, for the same reason. Stundin reported earlier this week that the Food and Veterinary Authority had not conducted an independent evaluation of the incident at Arnarlax’s farms, rather the reported numbers had come from the company itself.

According to Kjartan Ólafsson, Arnarlax’s board director, the dead fish account for 4% of all salmon in the company’s farms. Kjartan suggested that the deaths could have been avoided had the fish been slaughtered in December, before January’s extreme weather hit. He adds, however, that the casualties are not above what’s expected in the aquaculture industry. “There was algae in Norway last year and the mortality rate there was maybe close to 20%. So I think people in this industry can generally expect between 5-20% mortality.”

Foreign ships carry risk of disease

Several foreign ships are currently docked in Arnarfjörður to assist with harvesting farmed salmon. The Federation of Icelandic River Owners (Landssamband veiðifélaga) has argued that it is difficult to ensure such ships don’t carry diseases which could infect wild Icelandic salmon. In an interview with RÚV, Gísli Jónsson of MAST admitted that the ships were a weak link when it came to ensuring a disease-free environment, though they had gone through a risk assessment.

500 Tonnes of Salmon Die in Arnarlax Fish Farms

Around 500 tonnes of salmon have died recently in Arnarlax’s open-net fish farms in the Westfjords. The company’s board chairman told RÚV that number is within the limits projected by the company. The chairman of the Federation of Icelandic River Owners expressed concern about the deaths and the impact Arnarlax’s operations could have on wild salmon.

Though salmon regularly die in open-net fish farms, 500 tonnes is more than is usual for this time of year. Kjartan Ólafsson, the chairman of Arnarlax’s board says recent extreme weather has led to casualties. According to Kjartan, cool sea temperatures cause salmon to move further down in the nets and rub up against them. The rubbing can cause wounds that eventually lead to the fish’s death.

It is currently slaughter season for Arnarlax’s fish farms, and several ships are docked in the Westfjords to assist with the process. One of them is the Norwegian Gannet: equipped with 14 gutting machines, it is the world’s largest floating salmon processor. Arnarlax expects to harvest 10,000 tonnes of salmon this year, and Kjartan says the 500 tonnes of casualties were within the company’s projections.

Jón Helgi Björnsson, chairman of the Federation of Icelandic River Owners (Landssamband veiðifélaga), said the farmed salmon deaths were concerning. “Basically, it just can’t be normal for 500 tonnes of fish to die in a short period of time. If that’s natural, then of course people have to start wondering if this is an industry people can justify being engaged in. That’s a huge amount of fish that’s dying there.”

Jón Helgi also expressed worry that foreign ships like the Norwegian Gannet could transmit infections to Icelandic fish farms which could then affect wild stocks. “How are these ships disinfected? How does one disinfect an entire ship that is working at salmon farms abroad? We are very concerned that infections from abroad can be transmitted via these ships because of course they are used when similar situations occur elsewhere.”

Salmon Farm Rips Open in Dýrafjörður

salmon farm open net fish farm

A tear was discovered in one of Arctic Fish’s open-sea fish farms in Dýrafjörður in the Westfjords. A notice on the company’s website says the tear was discovered during routine inspection and is located at a depth of about 20 metres (65 feet).

The Directorate of Fisheries has been notified of the incident and a contingency plan activated. The open-net farm contains around 170,000 salmon, weighing on average 2.4kg (5.2lbs) each.

Over 180,000 Petition Iceland to Stop Open Net Fish Farming

About 180,000 people around the world have signed a petition to Icelandic, Norwegian, Scottish, and Irish authorities to stop granting licences for open net fish farming and to rescind currently valid licences in stages, Vísir reports. Iceland’s Parliamentary Speaker Steingrímur J. Sigfússon accepted the petition on Alþingi’s behalf yesterday.

Last spring, US outdoor gear company Patagonia and WeMove launched a petition with the support of Icelandic nature conservation groups calling on the Icelandic government to stop open-net fish farming. Jón Kaldal, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Wildlife Fund, says he is concerned about the effects of open net fish farming on wild salmon populations.

“Salmon farming in open net sea farms is carried out such that a net is hung in a frame and fish are set inside the net. All of the pollution and all of the waste; drugs, pesticides, and other things that go in the net and the pens, runs directly into the sea afterward,” Jón remarks. “These operations cause incredibly localised pollution. These are repeated outbreaks of [salmon] lice, just last week they were putting poison into the pens in the southern Westfjords, both at Arnarlax and Arctic Sea Farm, due to salmon lice which is rampant there.”

Salmon in open net farms also put wild salmon populations at risk, says Jón. Farmed salmon has previously escaped from pens in Iceland, posing a cross-breeding risk which could diminish wild salmon’s chances of survival. Iceland has the resources necessary for farming fish on land, says Jón, and points to the already developed arctic char farms in Iceland. Farming fish on land in closed pens eliminates the risk to wild fish populations, keeps waste separate from the surrounding environment, and keeps fish lice free. “We want to see that no more pens go into our fjords and that a clear line is laid down banning all open net sea farms and all of the farming moved up on land in the coming years,” Jón stated.

Open net salmon farms account for about three quarters of all fish farms in Iceland. Aquaculture production in Iceland is expected to double by 2021.