Farmed Salmon Surpasses Capelin in Export Income

Farmed salmon is now second only to cod in how much export income it brings into Iceland’s economy. Cod remains at the top of the list of fish species that provide the most export income, far outstripping all other species that are fished or farmed in Iceland. The data comes from Radarinn, a dashboard maintained by Fisheries Iceland, a federation of Icelandic companies in the seafood industry.

Cod still reigns supreme

For decades, cod has been the fish species that brings the most foreign earnings to Iceland, and it remains far above all other species, contributing ISK 136 billion ($979 million, €912 million) to Iceland’s economy last year. Capelin has often held second place on the list but was surpassed by farmed salmon last year. In 2023, farmed salmon brought ISK 37 billion ($266 million, €248 million) into the economy, while capelin fishing brought ISK 32 billion ($230 million, €215 million).

It bears noting that fishing is a seasonal pursuit, with species such as capelin only migrating to Icelandic waters for parts of the year. Salmon farming can be practised year-round. Though profitable, capelin fishing has fluctuated greatly in recent years, with no quota issued in 2019 or 2020.

Expansion in open-net salmon farming

The majority of fish farms in Iceland farm salmon, and most of them operate in open pens in Iceland’s fjords. Open-net fish farming in Icelandic waters grew more than tenfold between 2014 and 2021. Yearly production rose from under 4,000 tonnes to nearly 45,000 tonnes over this period. More than 99% of that production was farmed salmon. The practice has been controversial due to its potentially polluting effects, threat to native Icelandic salmon, and animal welfare concerns.

From the Archive: Grazing Free at the Ocean’s Expense

aquaculture fish farming iceland

From the archive: This article was published in Iceland Review magazine in 1983. Archival content is presented in unaltered form and may not necessarily reflect the current editorial standards of Iceland Review.

Aquaculture has been at the forefront of public discourse lately. In addition to our feature article on the state of the country’s open-pen aquaculture, Iceland Review also dug into the archives, revisiting the beginnings of this industry in Iceland.

In the early 1980s, the salmon farming industry in Iceland was relatively young. Its primary focus was enhancing wild salmon populations through hatchery programmes, notably at the state-operated Kollafjörður hatchery. It was there that Icelandic salmon were hatched and reared for release into rivers, with the aim of bolstering natural stocks. Scientific experiments at Kollafjörður demonstrated promising return rates of 5-15% for these released salmon, a significant achievement compared to other countries.

At this time, efforts were made to implement Norwegian methods of open-pen salmon farming in Iceland, but this faced distinct challenges. The Icelandic coastline lacked the protective reefs (skerry gardens) found off the Norwegian coast, which in Norway helped shield salmon in open pens from harsh ocean conditions. Icelandic fjords, exposed to rolling seas and significant tidal variations, were less suitable for this method. Additionally, the extreme cold of Icelandic coastal waters during winter posed a survival challenge for salmon in open pens.

To address these challenges, Iceland experimented with alternative methods. One such method involved using geothermally-heated sea water in experimental open-pen farms, particularly along the coast of the southwest peninsula. This innovation allowed for the maintenance of optimal water temperatures, accelerating salmon growth and reducing the loss of salmon smolts. Despite these efforts, the high costs of such methods and the necessity of a high market price for salmon remained significant considerations for the industry.

At the time, these new aquaculture techniques represented something of a breakthrough, both for conservation and industry. Now, as so often is the case, the initial excitement of progress has given way to a more complicated picture.

The future of salmon farming in Iceland awaits the success of a new development which may be realized next summer. Approximately 400,000 young salmon, after having been reared in hatcheries to 25-gram size (salmon smolts), were released last summer at twelve selected locations around Iceland. Only 8% of these fish need to return from the sea after one year’s time, each then weighing about six pounds, to enable a new farming technique called salmon-ranching to become a profitable business. Even if the recovery figure is essentially less, perhaps as low as 3%, the release method could prove worthwhile—if the high price for salmon remains stable and a sufficient overseas market can be obtained.

Until quite recently, salmon were hatched and reared only for release into about 80 salmon rivers in Iceland, and it has primarily been the owners and lessees of such rivers who have enjoyed the benefits of salmon cultivation. Angling for salmon is very popular with both Icelandic and foreign sportsmen who pay a high price for daily permits. During the years 1971 through 1980, they hooked approximately 40,000 salmon per year weighing on the average 7 to 8 pounds. Netted salmon during the same period totaled about 25,000 annually. It is not anglers only the quantity of fish in Iceland’s rivers that anglers have sought, but also the salmon’s admirable qualities as a sportfish combined with the peaceful and unspoiled surroundings in which the fish is found. Some of the best fishing places are far away from populated areas and the noise of traffic, while others are within inhabited areas, such as Elliðaár, the river which flows through Reykjavik. At this location, where the surrounding environs have been protected, anglers quietly exercise their skills by hauling 1200 to 1300 salmon out of the river each year.

fish farming iceland

The steps leading up to the expansion of salmon ranching in Iceland—the release of salmon smolts to the sea—had their beginning at the state-operated hatchery in Kollafjordur shortly after it opened in 1961, when scientific experiments were conducted. These experiments revealed that return rates ranging from 5 to 15 percent could be realized in any given year. Additionally, the average weight of returning salmon would be between 5 and 8 pounds after one year of ocean feeding. This proved to be a superior yield compared to that achieved in other countries engaged in salmon releases, where only a small fraction of the returning salmon manage to elude fishermen and reach spawning grounds, while the remainder are caught in the sea by individuals who do not contribute to the expense of hatching, rearing, and release.

The obvious reason for the better yield in Iceland is the country’s protective law, which bans all salmon fishing along the coasts. The first prohibitive legislation was enacted by the Althing fifty years ago. Originally, there were some exceptions to the ban, arising from historical precedent with certain landowners, but these were few and relatively unimportant. Subsequent changes to the law made the prohibition uniform for everyone, and violations were severely punished. It is safe to assert that nowhere in the world today is there such an effective government ban on salmon fishing as that along the coasts of Iceland and within its 200-mile jurisdiction.

Notwithstanding the scientific results obtained at Kollafjordur, when man’s interest in salmon harvesting for food production had been fully awakened in Iceland, experiments were first conducted with various methods of farming. It has since become apparent that the conditions on Iceland’s coast are in many ways different from those of neighbouring countries. In Norway, for example, salmon are commonly fed and maintained to adult size in sea-pens within calm fjords, where outlying reefs (skerry gardens) off the coast afford protection from heavy seas. This method of ocean farming is not practiced in Iceland because such protective reefs are generally not to be found. Thus, not only do the rolling seas penetrate the shallow fjords, but also there is a correspondingly greater difference between low and high tides which disturbs sea-pens or similar enclosures. In addition, the ocean temperature becomes extremely cold during winter, such that salmon cannot survive.

There is, however, an experimental sea-pen salmon farm presently in operation on Iceland’s southwest peninsula, where geothermally-heated sea water obtained by drilling is pumped into coastal ponds. By maintaining an optimum temperature between 10 and 15 degrees, the growth of salmon is accelerated. The greatest advantage to this method of farming, barring unforeseen circumstances, is the relatively small loss of salmon smolts chosen for rearing, which thus offers some assurance that the investment of time and money is well expended. However, the necessity for continuous pumping of warm water, because of Iceland’s cool climate, and feed costs imply that the salmon produced must bring a high price at the market. A variation of this farming method is now being practiced by ISNO in northwest Iceland. Here the salmon are kept in sea-pens in a large lagoon, where the water is not very salty and the warmth is provided by underground geothermal springs. Some of the salmon smolts are also released for ranching.

Future experiments are planned to combine the two enclosure operations — that is, maintain the young salmon in ponds on land up to 300 grams and then transfer them to sea-pens for the last few months before slaughter. Considerable expense for power would be eliminated by this two-step method.

A further extension of the salmon ranching method practiced at the government hatchery at Kollafjordur is to release salmon smolts into rivers or release areas not previously frequented by salmon, but where salmon release and recapture facilities can be built. Salmon smolts are in this case transported up to 100 kilometers from their native stream and fed for one month in a pen at the site of release. Immediately seeking the sea after release, the salmon roam for approximately one year, during which time sexual maturity is achieved, and then return to the river of release — a homing instinct for which the Atlantic salmon is noted and which rarely fails. Upon their return for the purpose of spawning, they are taken in a trap and slaughtered. This method has been practiced very successfully at Láros on the Snaefellsnes peninsula where recovery rates exceeding 10% have been realized.

salmon fishing in iceland

By allowing salmon to mature in the ocean, a huge expenditure for power is saved, as well as the cost of feeding and maintenance. However, this factor is offset by the small recovery figure. Two conditions are clearly requisite if the release method is to be profitable: (1) that the percentage of return does not drop below a certain level, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, and (2) that the expenses incurred in maintaining the young salmon up to release size be reasonable.

The rearing period is expensive, as special conditions are needed. Since natural water is always too cold for optimum results, warm water must be added. There is much geothermal heat in Iceland, but it is not always present at locations which are most favourable for the growing and release of salmon. Obviously, coexistence of hatchery and release sites would be ideal, since transportation and manpower costs would be minimised. It is also believed that the yield of returning salmon would be higher if they were released close to the river of origin or at least in the same part of the country.

Warm water for smolt rearing has been obtained in a novel way at one location. A large aluminium plant has been in operation for some time at Straumsvík, and at the same site is the largest hatchery in Iceland which is privately-owned. Excess coolant water from the aluminium reduction facility, which is unpolluted but had no prior application, is now used to warm the water where salmon are maintained. Last summer, 130,000 young fish were released into the sea from this new farm. If the prediction of a 5% recovery of six-pound mature salmon is realised next summer, over twenty tons of fish would be produced at just one farming location.

A total of 400,000 salmon smolts were released throughout Iceland last summer, of which 285,000 were set free in the southwest and west. In these areas, the sea is warmer than the northwestern and northern fjords, where the remainder were released. When the sea is colder, the salmon’s growth is slower and maturity may take an additional year. However, recovery stations in the north and northwest may then benefit by the salmon’s considerably larger size.

The future outlook for this new method of salmon farming, which combines one year of rearing with oceanic feeding for a year or two, looks very promising, and many investors have appeared and are already planning new projects. Among these are several foreign investors, such as the well-known Norwegian firm Mowi, which is already affiliated with the Icelandic salmon growing company ISNO in pen-rearing and salmon ranching operations on the northern coast. Some Icelanders have expressed concern about foreign participation in their country’s salmon farming, particularly since it may seem to be a circumvention of Iceland’s fishing jurisdiction which is meant to protect salmon-growing waters. Others, however, point out that the industry has benefitted from foreign knowledge and experience where pen-rearing of salmon is concerned, plus the fact that investment capital for future expansion is not easily obtainable in Iceland, especially with the continual spiralling inflation which acts as a detriment to potential Icelandic investors. In view of this, foreign participation will probably be accepted without too much opposition, as long as it is kept within reasonable limits.

escaped farmed fish iceland

Balancing the Scales

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 […]

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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.”

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.

Stricter Policy for Fish Farms Following Escapes

Golli. Norwegian divers catch escaped farmed salmon in an Icelandic river, October 2023

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir presented the draft of a new legal framework for fish farming in Iceland yesterday. The draft proposes increased monitoring of fish farms and requiring licence holders to pay “a fair price” for the use of natural resources. Escaped salmon from open-net fish farms in the Westfjords have been found in rivers across Northwest Iceland and the Westfjords in recent weeks, threatening the survival of the country’s wild salmon.

“Fee collection from the sector must reflect that [fish farming] is a matter of utilising limited resources,” Svandís stated. “It is fundamental that those who profit from the use of the country’s natural resources pay a fair price for it. But it is equally important that we set ourselves ambitious, measurable goals in environmental matters and set a timetable on the way to those goals.” The objectives and strategy in the draft extend to the year 2040 and the action plan to the year 2028.

Companies can lose farming licences if fish escape

The draft also includes additional funding for research and monitoring of fish farms, to be carried out by the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) and the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (Hafrannsóknastofnun). At a press conference yesterday, the Head Secretary of the Food and Agriculture Ministry Kolbeinn Árnason stated that the new regulations would be enforce through the introduction of both positive and negative incentives.

“With tax incentives on the one hand, positive incentives so that people invest in equipment so that the risk [of escaped fish] will be lower,” Kolbeinn stated. “Then we have negative incentives, which include that the company will bear responsibility for escape incidents. The consequences for a company of such an escape will be in the form of the government stripping that company of a permanent fish farming licence.”

Read More: Damning Report on Iceland’s Fish Farming Industry

The draft regulations also propose limiting farming in each fjord to a single company in order to facilitate investigation in the case of escaped fish and to limit the spread of disease. There are currently multiple fjords where more than one company is operating fish farms, particularly in the Westfjords. Companies would have until 2028 to swap licences so that only one company is operating in each zone.

Open-net salmon farms dominate industry

Open-net fish farming in Icelandic waters has grown more than tenfold between 2014 and 2021. Yearly production rose from under 4,000 tonnes to nearly 45,000 tonnes over this period. More than 99% of that production was farmed salmon.

The export value of agricultural products in 2021 was more than ISK 36 billion [$254 million; 237 million]. Most of that figure, or 76%, was farmed salmon, according to RÚV. The aquaculture industry has played a role in supporting development in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, but the largest fish farming companies in Iceland are Norwegian-owned. Escaped salmon from fish farms threatens the survival of wild salmon in Iceland through genetic mixing as well as the spread of disease.

Construction Begins on Country’s Largest Land-Based Aquaculture Facility

Construction has begun on what will become the largest land-based aquaculture facility in Iceland, Vísir reports. The company, Landseldi ehf. (also known in English as Deep Atlantic Salmon Project) bases its operations in Þorlákshöfn, South Iceland and eventually plans to raise 40,000 tons of salmon annually. It is also committed to utilizing all of the farm’s biproducts, or sludge, as a rich, “biologically perfect” fertilizer.

Founded in 2017 by entrepreneurs with experience in aquaculture, the construction industry, geothermal energy, and finance, Landeldi, ehf. says its mission is no less than to “inspire the global transition to fully sustainable food production, use terraforming aquaculture to rear an abundance of salmon on land, fertilize the earth, and regenerate the climate.” While fish farming in sea pens has been criticised for its environmental impact, fish farming in tanks on land eliminates many problems such as the possibility of farmed salmon mixing with wild fish and pollution from waste gathering on the ocean floor. Such operations require more energy, but Landeldi claims that Iceland’s geothermal energy can keep the production carbon-neutral and that 100% of the water used in its facility is renewable and sourced from boreholes in its ownership.

Will bring 170 new jobs to booming Þorlákshöfn

Landeldi’s current expansion is part of a three-phase plan. As the company’s website explains, their “production quantity will double every two years. Starting at 5,000 tons in 2022 it will have grown to at least 20,000 tons by 2027.”

The current phase will will create 170 new jobs in the town, which has itself seen enormous expansion in recent years, not least due to a local boom in land-based fish farming. When Landeldi began its first construction phase in 2021, three other companies were developing land-based aquaculture facilities there as well.

“The main construction will be of some 150 to 160 tanks, which will be carried out for a cost of around ISK 70 billion [$4.85 million; €4.59 million] over the next 10 years,” says Rúnar Þór Þórarinsson, Landeldi’s head of sustainability and development. “It’s a really big project and we’re well underway. We’ve had a hatchery at Öxnalækur [a land-based aquaculture farm not far from Þorlákshöfn], where we completely renovated the facilities, and which we bought as soon as the environmental assessment was done. We’ve got salmon in seawater tanks in Þorlákshöfn—big tanks, 15-20 m [49-65 ft]—and we’re building 25 and 30-meter [82 and 98-ft] tanks this year.”

‘The environmental friendliness of land-based aquaculture is close to our hearts’

Þorlákshöfn is particularly well-situated for land-based aquaculture, says Rúnar Þór. “The conditions are unique there because we’ve got the sea, which Iceland itself filters for us. The strata are quite permeable, alternating between sand and [porous] rock, [which started out as lava] in volcanic eruptions 7,000 – 20,000 years ago. And the sea cleans out parasites, plastic particles, and other things that can harm the fish.” (See a more detailed description of this process on the Landeldi website, in English, here.)

Landeldi is also particularly proud of the unique system it has developed to utilize all of its facilities’ biowaste.

“The environmental friendliness of land-based aquaculture is close to our hearts,” says Rúnar Þór. “This is in our DNA as a company. We intend to collect the fish manure and work with other fish farms to utilize it for the good of the land and support agriculture with fertilizer, biochar, and compost production by any means necessary.”

Damning Report on Iceland’s Fish Farming Industry

fish farming iceland

The administration and supervision of open-net fish farming in Iceland are weak and fragmented, according to a newly-released report from the Icelandic National Audit Office (INAO). The Minister of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture says fish farming regulations are an unclear patchwork and that the government will act on the report’s findings. RÚV reported first.

Rapid development with little oversight

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Food, Fisheries, and Agriculture and was presented to the Constitutional and Supervisory Committee yesterday. It paints a dark picture of the administration and supervision of the fish farming industry, which has grown rapidly in Iceland over the past decade. For example, changes in fish farming legislation that were intended to promote the growth and development of the sector, have not been followed up by strengthening its administration and supervision.

Consolidation of ownership, directionless development, and operation of open-net sea pens have become established in areas without much discussion or direct action on the part of the government. Farming areas have been allocated for the long term free of charge, and there are examples of fish farming zones overlapping with sailing routes, protected areas for telecommunications and electricity cables, and obstructing navigational lighthouses.

According to the INAO report, monitoring of the sector needs to be strengthened. The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute has pointed out that it does not have the resources required to define fish farming zones. The report says that the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) did not consider additional monitoring necessary despite uncovering serious and even repeated deviations from existing regulations.

Open-net salmon farms dominate industry

Open-net fish farming in Icelandic waters has grown more than tenfold between 2014 and 2021. Yearly production rose from under 4,000 tonnes to nearly 45,000 tonnes over this period. More than 99% of that production was farmed salmon.

The export value of agricultural products in 2021 was more than ISK 36 billion [$254 million; 237 million]. Most of that figure, or 76%, was farmed salmon, according to RÚV. The aquaculture industry has played a role in supporting development in the Westfjords and Eastfjords, but the largest fish farming companies in Iceland are Norwegian-owned.

Legislation will take time to amend

“It is quite clear that the regulatory framework around this is a patchwork, is unclear, ineffective, and so on,” stated Minister of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir. “We’ve been chasing an industry that has grown very quickly.” Svandís stated that it was unlikely changes to legislation would go through this session as they require considerable preparation, but that there were many suggestions in the report the government would act on “immediately.”

Salmon Fished in Westfjords Rivers Likely Escaped from Farms

fish farming iceland

Salmon that were caught in the Westfjords recently are suspected to be escapees from open sea salmon farms in the region, a notice from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) states. The fish were reported to MAST on August 26 and samples are now being analysed to determine their origin. Escaped salmon poses a risk to wild salmon populations, as cross-breeding could diminish wild salmon’s chances of survival.

Iceland’s aquaculture industry has been expanding rapidly in recent years. While some aquaculture is practiced on land, the majority of fish farms in Iceland are open-net sea farms. Such farms now operate in several of the Westfjords: Dýrafjörður, Arnarfjörður, Tálknafjörður, and Patreksfjörður.

The industry’s expansion has not been without opposition from environmental groups and local residents. In 2019, a petition signed by 18,000 people calling for a stop to open-net fish farming was handed over to the Icelandic Parliament.

There have been previous instances of escaped farmed salmon caught in the wild in Iceland, including as early as 2018.

MAST will publish more information on the fish once their DNA has been sequenced.

First Ever Cases of Infectious Salmon Anaemia in Iceland

Salmon Farm.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has found evidence of infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) in an open-net salmon farm in Reyðarfjörður fjord, East Iceland. ISA is a highly infectious viral disease that has no treatment and causes high mortality in farmed Atlantic salmon. This is the first time the virus has been diagnosed in Icelandic waters.

The virus has been diagnosed in a salmon farm owned by Laxar fiskeldi ehf. Follow-up tests are now being conducted to confirm the diagnosis. A decision has been made to slaughter all of the fish in the pen where the virus was detected. Fish in the farm’s other pens appear to be healthy, according to the notice from MAST. It will, however, be closely monitored in the near future.

The ISA virus is harmless to humans and is not transmitted through fish products. It is also known as “salmon flu,” and belongs to the Orthomyxoviridae family of influenza viruses and has most of the characteristics of influenza viruses known in mammals and birds. A benign variant of the virus is widespread and “probably found everywhere in salmons’ environment,” according to the notice from MAST. The pathogenic ISA virus, like the one that has now been detected in Iceland for the first time, is created by mutation of the benign variant.

The first case of ISA was detected in Norway in 1984. Since then it has been detected in many other salmon farming nations, including Canada (1996), Scotland (1998), the Faroe Islands (2000), the USA (2001), Chile (2001), and Ireland (2002).

“The diagnosis of the virus emphasises the importance of monitoring and infection control in order to maintain good disease status in Iceland and prevent diseases such as ISA emerge and get a foothold in salmon farms,” the MAST statement concludes.

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.