Record Numbers of Pink Salmon Caught

humpback salmon iceland

Iceland’s Marine Research Institute has issued a report on salmon and trout catches in 2021. 339 pink salmon were reported, an all-time record.

Pink salmon, also called humpback salmon for the prominent bump males develop during their spawn migration, is native to the Pacific ocean and is considered an invasive species in Iceland.

Some 323 pink salmon were caught by anglers, and 16 were caught in nets.

In total, 36,461 salmon catches were registered last year, with 53.7% of them released and 46.3% of them landed. The total catch is recorded as 46,832kg.

In the second half of the 20th century, the fish was stocked in Russian streams. After this introduction, the pink salmon has made its way around the arctic region to the North Atlantic, and the species has been recorded not just in Iceland, but also throughout the UK and Ireland as an invasive species. Environmentalists are concerned that the fish may disrupt native habits and compete with other species for food.

British Billionaire Plans to Build Fishing Lodge

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe hopes to build a 950 sq m [10,226 sq ft] fishing lodge on land he co-owns in Vopnafjörður, in Northeast Iceland, RÚV reports. According to the public zoning application, the development plans include an onsite restaurant and guesthouse.

Ratcliffe has purchased a significant amount of land in the area in recent years and owns a majority share of at least 30 properties, a minority share of nine, and fishing rights at two places within public lands around Selárdalur, home to one of the best salmon rivers in the country. In the past, he’s stated that he bought the land in the name of environmental protection and in order to protect Icelandic salmon stock.

In order for Ratcliffe and his fellow owners to move forward with their development plans, the land at Ytri Hlíð, which is currently zoned as agricultural land, would need to be rezoned as a retail and service area. Per the proposal, the landowners say the fishing lodge and accompanying facilities and intended to strengthen tourism in the area and make it a more competitive destination on the local market. If approved, the fishing lodge would overlook Vesturárdalur valley, as well as the Krossavíkur and Smjörfjöll mountains.

In order for the proposed lodge and facilities to be usable, significant infrastructural development would also be required: a road to the property would need to be paved, power lines would have to be laid, and, in order to provide drinking water, a well would either need to be drilled or else a spring in a nearby village would need to be tapped for the purpose.

The public has the opportunity to comment on the proposal until September 3. The Vopnafjörður district office will also hold an open house on Monday to present the development plans.

Dig Through Landslide to Redirect Salmon River

A fishing association will dig up 350,000 square metres (3.8 million sq ft) of soil in order to redirect Hítará river, which was diverted by a landslide two years ago. RÚV reports the project will likely cost more than ISK 100 million ($730,000/€660,000), but the Hítará Fishing Association says the investment is worth it, as the river is one of the most lucrative salmon fishing rivers in the country.

In the summer of 2018, unusually wet weather caused an enormous landslide on Fagraskógarfjall mountain that completely blocked Hítará river. Roughly one kilometre (0.6mi) wide and 1.5km (0.9mi) long, the landslide is thought to be the largest that has ever occurred in Iceland. Hítará eventually carved a new trajectory, but an important former salmon spawning area in its old path is now either dry or underneath the landslide.

Ólafur Sigvaldsson, chairman of Hítará Fishing Association, says the now-dry area represents about 20% of the former Hítará. By digging a ditch through the landslide six metres deep and 18 metres wide (20ft x 60ft), the group aims to return the river to its old path. The association has applied for ISK 60 million ($440,000/€400,000) for the project from the Fish Farming Fund (Fiskræktarsjóður) but expects to pay the rest of the cost itself. Ólafur says compared to the financial loss to the association that the decline in salmon represents, the investment is worth it.

British Billionaire Buys Land to Protect Salmon

Jim Ratcliffe

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe says his most recent land purchase in Iceland is part of ongoing measures to protect the country’s wild salmon stocks. Ratcliffe stated as much in a press release sent to RÚV this morning. The ultimate goal is to make salmon fishing in Iceland the best and most sustainable in the world.

The press release states that the British mogul has expanded his plans of investment in local projects in Iceland’s northeast region with the aim to protect salmon in the area’s main fishing rivers. Ratcliffe aims to protect the rivers’ surrounding land as well as the fragile ecosystem of the area as a whole.

“Overfishing threatens the North Atlantic salmon stock and it is decreasing in rivers everywhere. The north-eastern part of Iceland is one of few salmon spawning areas that has escaped [this trend] and I want to do what I can to protect the area,” Ratcliffe is quoted as saying in the press release. Ratcliffe owns other properties in the region, for example in Vopnafjörður, where he has made efforts toward conserving the unique nature of the area alongside residents and other landowners.

Holistic approach to conservation

The press release outlines conservation measures planned for the next five years, which include expanding the salmon spawning area by installing salmon ladders in Hafralónsá, Hofsá, and Miðfjarðará rivers in Vopnafjörður. Fertilised roe will also be released into the rivers, as well as into Selá, where Ratcliffe’s efforts are reportedly bearing fruit through a growing salmon population.

In collaboration with communities in the northeast, Ratcliffe is also working to combat soil erosion and improving the ecosystems surrounding salmon rivers, in part by supporting reforestation efforts. He is also conducting a long-term study of the wellbeing of Icelandic salmon in rivers and out at sea, in collaboration with the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute as well as local and international universities.

Foreigners’ land purchase a hot topic

Land purchase by foreigners has been in the public discourse lately, with many pointing out that Iceland’s regulations regarding the purchase of land by foreigners is more lax than in neighbouring countries. The Icelandic government is currently reviewing the existing legislation with the consideration of tightening requirements for land purchase.

Read more: Whose Land Is It Anyway?

Puppeteer Named Reykjavík Resident of the Year

Puppeteer Helga Steffensen was named Reykjavík Resident of the Year on Thursday, RÚV reports. Every year, the mayor invites guests of honour to open the fishing season with him at the Elliðaár river on the east side of Reykjavík. The first person to catch a salmon during the excursion is then named the honorary citizen of the year.

Helga caught a male salmon of around seven or eight pounds; it only took her 15 minutes catch the fish and reel it in. Heiða runs the Brúðubíllinn, or “Puppet Car,” which puts on free puppet shows for children each summer. Helga has been running the roving puppet theatre for 39 years, and has put on over 60 plays in that time.

“This is really cool and I’m very proud,” remarked Helga after catching her fish. When asked what stood out to her about her decades of work as a puppeteer, she was quick to answer. “It’s the kids. I’m right there with our youngest citizens from cradle to pram. I’m always working to make them happy,” she said. Helga said that this summer had been particularly fun for her, as the weather has been so good.

This is the ninth year that the title of Reykjavík Resident of the Year has been given out. Last year’s honouree was Bergþór Grétar Böðvarsson, who runs the grassroots organization called FC Sækó (FC Psycho) that aims to improve people’s mental health through football.

See the Puppet Car’s summer schedule here.

Jim Ratcliffe Acquires More Land in Iceland

Jim Ratcliffe

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has purchased holding company Grænaþing from investor Jóhannes Kristinsson, Fréttablaðið reports. With the acquisition, Ratcliffe has a 86.7% stake in the fishing association Strengur Ltd., which owns the fishing rights of Selá and Hofsá rivers in Vopnafjörður, Northeast Iceland.

Ratcliffe was named the UK’s richest person in May 2018, with a net worth of £21.05 billion. He now has owns over 30 properties in Vopnafjörður in whole or part, alongside other land in Iceland.

Chairman and CEO of Ineos chemicals group, Ratcliffe has been purchasing land in Northeast Iceland over the past several years with the stated goal of protecting salmon rivers in the area. When he purchased Grímsstaðir á fjöllum in 2016, Ratcliffe issued a statement saying the land was an important catchment area for salmon rivers in the region and the purchase was a step toward protecting wild Atlantic salmon stocks.

The purchase of Icelandic land by foreign nationals has been in the local media spotlight lately, with many locals concerned about foreign landowners’ intentions with the land. Minister of Justice Sigríður Á. Andersen has expressed her desire to tighten land purchase regulations and increase transparency in company ownership of land.

In Focus: Whose Land Is It Anyway?

In 2011, a Chinese businessman named Huang Nubo tried to buy one of the largest farmlands in Iceland, Grímsstaðir á Fjöllum. Since Nubo was neither an Icelandic citizen nor a resident of the European Economic Area (EEA), he was required to apply for an exemption from Iceland’s Ministry of the Interior in order to purchase […]

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Open-Net Fish Farming an “Attack on Rural Residents”

aquaculture farm iceland

The presidents of ten fishing companies in Northwest Iceland have come together to censure open-net fish farming in their district, calling the burgeoning industry “an attack on rural residents in the Húnavatn district.” Kjarninn reports that the presidents wrote an open letter to members of parliament who represent this constituency, pointing out that as many as 280 farms in Húnavatn earn income from salmon fishing in local rivers, and many also earn income from river-fished Arctic char as well.

The letter states quite emphatically that open-net fish farming has the potential to chip away at the foundation of the well-established and extensive river fishing industry which rural residents depend upon, as well as break up the cooperative fishing system, which ensures that income earned from fishing is distributed to all residents in the region.

Icelandic parliament passed a law in early October which gives the Minister of Fisheries authority to grant provisional licenses for fish farming. Fish farming is a growing industry in Iceland, but open-net fish farms have been a topic of much debate in the country due to their impact on the surrounding marine environment.

The operational licenses of salmon farming companies Arctic Sea Farm and Fjarðarlax for a combined 17,500 tonnes of fish in open-net farms in the Westfjords were revoked in early October by the Environmental and Natural Resources Board of Appeal. Nature conversation groups and landowners had brought charges against the licenses to the board, citing concerns of pollution and the spreading of farmed salmon into fishing rivers around the country. These concerns were well-founded: earlier this season, three farmed salmon were caught in two rivers in the Westfjords.

“Farmers and others who hold fishing rights have committed to protecting, maintaining, and associating this natural resource with the respect it deserves, such that our salmon fishing rivers have the best possible reputation,” read the letter written by the fishing company presidents. “Furthermore, there have been considerable funds invested in the improvement of fishermen’s facilities, such as good accommodations in fishing lodges and improved access to fishing areas by way of new road construction. The earnings from salmon and Arctic char fishing have for many generations been an integral pillar alongside agriculture for numerous farmers in the country’s rural areas. If the value [of this resource] is reduced, it will cut the livelihood of families around the country off at the knees. A legal framework related to farmers’ cooperatives in connection with fishing rivers would ensure that income is distributed democratically within rural areas.”

“This value is not only jeopardized by the inevitable genetic blending that happens when farmed fish of Norwegian origin travel up our rivers,” continues the letter. “[T]he damage is done as soon as farmed fish are caught in rivers. The reputation of the fishing rivers in question will suffer setbacks and the value of their catch will be reduced.”