Sea Lice Outbreak Claims At Least 1 Million Salmon in 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.

President Takes Part in Rescue Mission

iceland coast guard

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was involved in a small adventure when his trip to the Westfjords took a small detour yesterday, January 22.

The president was on his way to Patreksfjörður, a small town in the Westfjords, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of an avalanche there that left four residents dead.

Following heavy snowfall in January 1983, two avalanches tore off large parts of the hillside surrounding the town, leaving some 30 residents missing, including many children.

In total, 19 houses in Patreksförður were damaged, and 500 residents sought refuge in group shelters during the night. The avalanches are one of the most significant events in the town’s history and are commemorated annually. This year, a special 40-year anniversary took place, with a church service, musical performances, and a ceremony that included a candle-lighting and laying of commemorative wreaths.

iceland coast guard
President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson aboard the coast guard ship Freyja – Forseti Íslands Facebook

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson had also planned to be in attendance at the special ceremony.

However, as the president stated in a public post on Facebook, “not everything goes according to plan.”

On his way to the Westfjords to join in the commemoration, the coast guard ship Freyja, on which he was a passenger, had to make a small detour.

The crew of Freyja was tasked with assisting Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson GK, a fishing ship that needed a tow off of Halamið, an important fishing ground off the northwest coast of the Westfjords.

After Freyja took the ship in tow, they headed their separate ways: Freyja en route to Akureyri, and Hrafn on its way south.

President Guðni added: “It’s no joke to be out on the open sea without light and heat, right by an ice sheet. But luckily it was calm weather, and probably nowhere in Iceland was nicer than out on Halamið today.”

Risk of Avalanche in Patreksfjörður and Ísafjörður

A danger phase is in effect in the towns of Patreksfjörður and Ísafjörður, in the Westfjords, due to the risk of avalanches. RÚV reports that some industrial buildings in Ísafjörður have been evacuated as well as some residential buildings in Patreksfjörður. Two farms in the northern Westfjords have also been evacuated due to the risk. Extreme weather has hit the region and blizzards and strong winds are expected to continue into tomorrow.

Read More: Avalanche Risk in the Westfjords and North Iceland

Avalanches fell in Skutulsfjörður, Álftafjörður, and Önundafjörður in the Northern Westfjords over last weekend. An avalanche fell on the barriers above Patreksfjörður last night. Avalanche expert Magni Hreinn Jónsson says more precipitation is expected in the region.

Travellers are asked to show caution and monitor road conditions on