Balancing the Scales

escaped farmed fish iceland

Protest On Saturday, October 7, a tractor trundled through the streets of downtown Reykjavík with hundreds of protestors in tow. The procession was headed to Austurvöllur Square in front of Iceland’s Parliament for a demonstration.Several organisations – including Landvernd (the Icelandic Environment Association) and the Icelandic Wildlife Fund – had organised the event to protest […]

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Farmed Salmon Caught in Rivers Across Northwest Iceland

aquaculture farm iceland

Escaped farmed salmon may be swimming in at least eight salmon fishing rivers in Northwest Iceland and the Westfjords. Farmed salmon pose a threat to the survival of wild salmon in Iceland. Two holes were found on a salmon farm net in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords earlier this month. Authorities are conducting DNA analysis to determine whether fish caught in the rivers came from the Patreksfjörður farm.

Risk of genetic mixing

“Just in the last few days the reports have been pouring in and we seem to have at least eight confirmed cases, in eight different fishing areas, and that is a serious matter. And it remains to be confirmed through samples and research if or where these farmed salmon are from, but these are experienced anglers and guides who have handled these fish and it seems quite clear that this is the case,” Gunnar Örn Petersen, the CEO of The Federation of Icelandic River Owners (Landssamband veiðifélaga) told RÚV.

Gunnar says the salmon that have been caught are similar in size to those that were in the salmon farm in Patreksfjörður, though they could be fry that escaped from the sea pen in Arnarfjörður in 2021. He called the situation the environmental disaster that the federation has warned of since open-net fish farms began operating in Iceland.

“Whether we are talking about the diseases or massive death [of fish in the farms] or salmon lice beyond all limits and now it seems to be happening right here in front of your eyes that genetic mixing is happening. And genetic mixing is irreversible damage that no countermeasures can prevent and that we can’t reverse. It is therefore clear that open-net sea farming will be the final blow for Icelandic salmon stocks if the government doesn’t take the reins.” As many as 3,500 salmon may have escaped from the Patreksfjörður farm, which is owned by company Arctic Sea Farm.

Escaped salmon not unexpected, says fisheries spokesperson

Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland, stated that escaped salmon in Icelandic rivers were “not unexpected. The fact that salmon enter a salmon fishing river does not mean genetic mixing,” she argued. “The fact that salmon mixes with wild salmon in some cases does not mean that the wild population is endangered. This has to be a sustained significant situation not just for a year but for decades,” she stated in a Kastljós interview.

Heiðrún says that the risk assessment of genetic mix states that the percentage of farmed salmon in Icelandic rivers can go up to 4% without endangering the wild salmon populations. According to Heiðrún, the percentage across Iceland is currently 0.09%. Gunnar Örn argued that the percentage of farmed salmon in some smaller rivers has, however, reached 4%, “and of course, we believe that those salmon stocks are also important.”

80,000 Farmed Salmon Unaccounted For

fish farming iceland

When Arnarlax, an Icelandic aquaculture company, harvested their fish pens in Arnafjörður this October, they only found some 18,000 salmon. According to their records of how many salmon were supposed to be in the pen, upwards of 80,000 salmon were unaccounted for, likely having escaped from the damaged pens this summer.

Read more: Fish Escape from Aquaculture Pens in Westfjords

Now, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has decided to fine Arnarlax ISK 120 million [USD 857,700; EUR 819,200] for having failed in their responsibility to report the extent of the escape.

According to Arnarlax records, some 130,000 fish have been raised in the pens in question between October 2020 and July 2021. Official Arnarlax records recorded losses of around 33,000 fish, but when time came for harvest this October, the fish stocks were much lower than expected, leaving more than 80,000 unaccounted for.

This past August, Arnarlax did report a hole in one of its Arnarfjörður pens. According to MAST at the time, Arnarlax responded appropriately to the incident, repairing the damaged pen and reporting the incident to the authorities.

Since then, however, many farmed salmon have been found in the region’s rivers, including the Mjólká river, which is near the facility.

Read more: Farmed Salmon Found in Arnarfjörður

Now, however, MAST is calling attention to the discrepancy between Arnarlax’s reported figures at the time of the incident and the most recent figures from the harvest.

Two months before the incident, significant changes in the feeding pattern of the pen were recorded, which should have alerted Arnarlax to a potential leak in the pen, claims MAST.

MAST states it is taking the incident seriously, as escaped farmed fish can pose a risk to wild fish populations. MAST claims that the incident could have been prevented by better oversight. The fine it is now levelling against Arnarlax is to highlight the severity of the negligence and potential impact to the environment.


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.