Iceland News Review: Puffins in Peril, New Eruption and More!

In this episode, join us as editor Andie Sophia, filling in for Yelena, brings you all the week’s top stories in Iceland, including a daring sea rescue, protecting the puffin population, maybe a new eruption, and more!

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

Deep North Episode 57: Balancing the Scales

escaped farmed fish iceland

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 salmon aquaculture in open-net sea pens, an industry that grew more than tenfold in Iceland between 2014 and 2021. During this period, annual production ballooned from nearly 4,000 tonnes of farmed salmon to approximately 45,000 tonnes.

The reason protestors were demonstrating was because the growth of the industry had coincided with what some would call predictable problems. Aside from the potentially negative environmental impacts that salmon farming in open-net pens poses – including pollution from fish waste, uneaten feed, and chemicals or medicines used to treat diseases – Iceland had recently witnessed firsthand two of the industry’s primary risks: the escape of genetically-distinct farmed salmon of Norwegian origin from open-net pens (threatening introgression with wild populations), and the proliferation of diseases and parasites, most notably sea lice.

Read the full story here.

2023 in Review: Nature

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

As the year draws to a close, Iceland Review brings you a summary of the biggest stories in community, culture, and nature in 2023. Here are some of the biggest nature-related stories from the year, which included two volcanic eruptions in Reykjanes.

Grindavík Evacuated

It has been a time of upheaval for the Southwest Iceland town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), which was evacuated on November 10 amid powerful seismic activity. This was the first time since 1973 that an Icelandic town has been evacuated (or ever since the eruption on the Westman Islands). Earthquakes and the formation of a magma dike under the town opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around Grindavík.

Read More: Out of Harm´s Way (The Evacuation of Grindavík)

In early December, it appeared that magma had stopped flowing into the dike and experts believed that an eruption was less likely. However, they warned that the seismic events could repeat over the coming months, with magma flowing into the dike once more and threatening Grindavík. While the town’s evacuation order was in effect, Grindavík residents were permitted to enter the town to retrieve belongings and maintain their homes and properties. Some businesses in the town have also restarted operations.

Volcanic Eruption Near Sýlingarfell

On the night of December 18, following weeks of waning seismic activity, and with some Grindavík residents complaining about the evacuation orders remaining in effect, a powerful volcanic eruption began near the town of Grindavík and by Mt. Sýlingarfell. The eruption occurred along a 4 km long fissure and the magma flow was much greater when compared to the previous three eruptions that had occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula over the past three years. Construction workers rushed to fill in gaps in the protective barriers by the Svartsengi Power Station. Fortunately, the lava did not damage infrastructure, although it could have threatened the Grindavíkurvegur road if it had continued flowing.

The eruption was short-lived, fortunately, and by December 21, it appeared that volcanic activity had completely ceased.

On December 22, the authorities announced the lifting of the evacuation orders, starting December 23. A handful of residents chose to return and spend Christmas at home; however, many residents, contending that it was still not safe to stay in town, chose to remain in temporary housing outside of Grindavík. The government had previously announced that it would extend housing support throughout the winter for Grindavík residents (the government had also secured additional housing through rental companies).

With land uplift having continued near the Svartsengi Power Station, experts believe that further volcanic activity is likely in the future.

Eruption at Litli-Hrútur

Starting July 4, 2023, a significant increase in seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula led to over 12,000 earthquakes near the area where two volcanic eruptions had occurred in 2021 and 2022 respectively. This seismic activity eventually culminated in a powerful eruption on July 10 near Litli-Hrútur. The eruption was strong: ten times more lava flow than the previous two eruptions. The eruption initially featured multiple fissures extending over 1 km and a very high lava flow rate, but it soon settled into a single fissure with a steadily growing cone.

Read More: Live, Laugh, Lava (the Litli-Hrútur Eruption)

Given how dry it had been, the eruption set off multiple wildfires, which kept firefighters working around the clock. Once again, the eruption, which was relatively brief, proved highly popular among tourists; volcanic activity ceased on August 5.

Whaling Season Postponed

On June 20, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, announced that she would be postponing the start of the fin-whale hunting season until August 31. The decision followed on the heels of a report authored by a council of specialists on animal welfare, which found that the methods employed in the hunting of whales did not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Read More: Sea Change (Has Iceland Seen Its Last Whaling Season?)

After much clamour from anti-whaling activists around the world, the Minister did not extend the temporary postponement of the whaling season, which commenced on September 6. The ships of Iceland´s only whaling company, Hvalur hf., were, however, subjected to increased surveillance and stricter regulations set by the Minister of Fisheries in September. Charges were pressed against two activists, who had climbed into the crow´s nests of two of Hvalur´s whaling vessels to protest.

Sea-Lice in Tálknafjörður, the Great Escape — More Controversy Surrounding Salmon Farming

On August 20, approximately 3,500 farm-raised salmon escaped through two holes on an open-pen fish farm operated by Arctic Fish in Patreksfjörður, a fjord in Iceland’s Westfjords. Arctic Fish had not inspected the condition of the pens for 95 days.

In September, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), confirmed that 26 farmed salmon traced to the escape in Patreksfjörður had been caught in several fishing rivers in West and North Iceland. By October, the Federation of Icelandic River Owners claimed that 344 farmed salmon had been captured in 46 different locations. In response to the escape, the Directorate of Fisheries announced that it would provisionally extend the angling season until mid-November to increase the chances of farmed salmon being caught (teams of Norwegian divers were dispatched to aid in the capture of the escaped fish).

Read More: Balancing the Scales (Do the Costs of Fish Farming in Iceland Outweigh the Benefits?)

On October 7, a protest against salmon farming in open-net pens was held on Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík. Less than a month later, Heimildin reported that at least one million salmon had perished or had 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.”

New Climate Report Published

In September, a report titled “Climate Resilient Iceland” (i.e. Loftslagsþolið Ísland in Icelandic) was unveiled. Commissioned by the Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate, a steering committee produced the report to assess the necessary measures for society to adapt to climate change, emphasising that the impacts of climate change are already evident.

Read More: In Due Force (Unprecedented Mudslides)

According to the report, altered weather patterns, increased landslides, and heightened flood risks are among the challenges Icelanders will face in the coming years. When asked whether emphasising adaptation to climate change signified a form of resignation, Anna Hulda Ólafsdóttir, Office Manager of Climate Services and Adaptation at the Icelandic Meteorological Office and a co-author of the report, replied, “Yes and no; this is the reality we are facing. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. Humans have always adapted to changing circumstances.”

 

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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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

Read More »

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.

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.”

Humpack Salmon Spreads in Iceland, Threatening Local Fish

Humpack salmon, also known as pink salmon, is spreading in Icelandic rivers and threatening local fish species. Anglers caught dozens of humpback salmon in Eyjafjarðará river yesterday, RÚV reports.

The species was first observed in Iceland in 1960. Since 2015, humpback salmon have been increasing in number. It’s believed that they arrived in Iceland from Russia and Norway.

A fisherman noticed a lot of humpback salmon in Eyjafjarðará yesterday and called up the river’s fishing association. “They called out anglers who know the river and they just went to the spot right away where they saw this school and caught nearly 30 fish from it,” he said.

Humpack salmon can be eaten if it is caught at sea but is not good to eat when caught in freshwater. Eyjafjarará is known for its arctic char, whose numbers have decreased in recent years. “If [the humpback salmon] spawns and the fry grow, they are of course competing for food supply with the arctic char fry and the sea bass fry in the river,” Sigmundur Einar Ófeigsson, a board member of the Eyjafjarðará Fishing Association, stated.

Anglers are asked to report to local fishing associations if they spot or catch humpback salmon in Icelandic rivers. Icelandic authorities have enacted a temporary provision that permits fishing associations to fish humpback salmon with seines (nets) until 2025.