Parliament Approves ISK 2.2 Billion for Aquaculture Oversight

fish farming iceland

Parliament has approved ISK 2.2 billion [$15.9 / €15 billion] in additional funding for aquaculture oversight, following concerns raised by the Icelandic National Audit Office, Mbl.is reports. Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir highlighted measures already taken, including the purchase of underwater drones for monitoring and stressed the importance of preventing fish escapes from pens.

Funding increased based on reviews by National Audit Office

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, has revealed that Parliament has approved additional funding for the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority in relation to aquaculture, amounting to about ISK 2.2 billion [$15.9 / €15 billion] over the next five years, Mbl.is reports.

“This funding was decided and granted, among other reasons, due to the concerns raised in the administrative review by the Icelandic National Audit Office. The Food and Veterinary Authority has already, ten days ago, advertised six permanent positions for inspectors and veterinarians who will oversee this,” Svandís stated yesterday in a special discussion before Parliament about the accidental release of farmed salmon from open-net farms, initiated by Lilja Rannveig Sigurgeirsdóttir from the Progressive Party.

Svandís stated that the Food and Veterinary Authority had already taken measures that didn’t require legislative changes, such as – as pointed out in the aforementioned reviews by the Audit Office – changes in procedures regarding oversight of accidental release, the monitoring of the amount of feed going into pens, and placing more emphasis on internal supervision. The Food and Veterinary Authority has also invested in two underwater drones that will be used for specialised monitoring.

“Regarding penalties for major accidental releases and deficient internal oversight,” Svandís stated, “the recent escapes are being addressed at the appropriate administrative levels, and I cannot comment on them specifically. However, I can say that penalties will be reviewed in the bill that will be introduced in Parliament later this winter, and in the discussion of the preparations for that bill. In my opinion, no deviations should be without consequences.”

Svandís further emphasised the importance of preventing escapes and stated that farmed fish should be kept inside pens, not outside of them.

Whaling Vessel Suspended for Violating Welfare Protocols

Whaling ships

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily suspended the operations of whaling vessel Hvalur 8 for violating animal welfare protocols during a fin whale hunt, Vísir reports. The suspension will remain in place until corrective measures are verified by MAST and the Directorate of Fisheries.

Suspension in effect until corrective measures are adopted

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has temporarily halted the operations of the whaling vessel Hvalur 8, citing severe breaches of animal welfare protocols during the capture of a fin whale.

According to a press release on MAST’s website, a monitoring operation revealed that the initial shot fired from Hvalur 8 on September 7 struck a fin whale “outside the designated target area,” resulting in the animal’s failure to expire immediately.

Per newly-established regulations, the animal should have been dispatched with a subsequent shot without delay. However, the follow-up shot was not administered until approximately 30 minutes later, leading to the animal’s death a few minutes thereafter. The delay constitutes a violation of both animal welfare laws and long-line fishing regulations, according to MAST’s statement.

As noted by MAST, the suspension will remain in effect until corrective measures have been implemented and verified by both Mast and the Directorate of Fisheries (i.e. Fiskistofa).

No Whaling This Summer: Minister Halts Fin Whale Hunting

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, has decided to temporarily halt the hunting of fin whales until August 31. The decision follows on the heels of a report authored by a council of specialists on animal welfare, which found that fishing methods do not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Two reports, one conclusion

As noted in a press release published on the government’s website today, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) authored a report on the welfare of whales during hunting, which was received by the ministry in May 2023. The report found that the killing of whales took too long based on the main objectives of the Act on Animal Welfare.

MAST subsequently commissioned a council on animal welfare specialists to assess whether whaling could meet the objectives of the Act on Animal Welfare. The council’s opinion was received by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries yesterday, June 19. The report concluded that the fishing method used when hunting large whales did not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Given this finding, the Minister has decided to postpone the start of the whaling season, a day before whaling was set to begin, so that there is room to investigate whether it is possible to ensure that the hunting is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Act on Animal Welfare.

“I have made the decision to temporarily stop whaling in light of the unequivocal opinion of the council of animal welfare specialists,” the Minister is quoted as saying. “The conditions of the Act on Animal Welfare are inescapable in my mind: if the government and licence holders cannot guarantee welfare requirements, this activity does not have a future.”

This article will be updated.

EFTA Surveillance Authority to Investigate Whaling in Iceland

whale Iceland hvalur

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) – which monitors compliance with European Economic Area rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – intends to investigate whaling off the coast of Iceland. The case has been expedited. The Iceland Nature Conservation Association has also demanded that the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) revoke the operating licence of the whaling company Hvalur and has reported the company to the police, RÚV reports.

Claim that operations are not up to standards

As noted by RÚV, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) awarded the whaling company Hvalur an indefinite operating licence in 2021 related to the processing, cutting, freezing, and storage of whale products. The licence is dependent on the company fulfilling the legal requirements for its activities. The Iceland Nature Conservation Association is now calling for the licence to be revoked.

Katrín Oddsdóttir, attorney for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, told RÚV that the call for revocation was predicated on the association’s belief that Hvalur had not followed laws and regulations during its processing of whale products. “We have been calling for reports from various sources, and it turns out that things are not up to standards in many regards, in terms of the hunting and processing of whale products, for example.”

Pollution prevention lacking

RÚV notes that a report from the Health Inspectorate of West Iceland published last year found that pollution prevention at Hvalur’s processing plant was inadequate. A spring near the company’s plant was unprotected, and the report stated that the water could easily be polluted. The report also notes that oil pollution prevention in the processing area was not up to standards.

“Furthermore, the hygiene in the plant itself does not seem to be particularly admirable, according to a report from MAST,” Katrín added. Samples of whale meat taken by MAST showed higher-than-permissible levels of bacteria. “Which is naturally very serious, because, of course, this is about food safety … which is why we’ve also referred the matter to the EFTA Surveillance Authority.”

ESA reviewing the case

RÚV reports that the ESA announced today that it intended to investigate Hvalur’s whaling operations and that the case would be expedited. Katrín told RÚV that she hoped that a result would be reached before the start of the whaling season, which usually begins in the middle of June. “Of course, we hope that we will get help from the outside to point out the absurdity of whaling in the modern era.”

According to Katrín, “administrative enabling” in Iceland had thus far prevented Hvalur’s licence from being revoked: “There is a tendency within the administration to overlook deviations and things that obviously do not comply with regulations. When it comes to regulations regarding drinking water and pollution prevention, the issue is serious.” As noted by RÚV, representatives of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association filed a complaint against the company Hvalur to the Police in West Iceland yesterday.

Anti-whaling protest on Saturday

As noted on IR this week, Icelandic musician Björk will participate in an anti-whaling protest in Reykjavík on Saturday, June 3. The organisers of the event are urging the Icelandic government to put a stop to whaling immediately.

Avian Flu Diagnosed, Risk of Poultry Infection “Considerable”

A case of the avian flu has been diagnosed in a mallard discovered in Garðabær. The risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable,” according to the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). The public is asked to notify MAST of any sightings of sick or dead birds.

The first case of avian flu

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) recently downgraded its preparedness level for avian flu, from level three to two, after there were no reported infections during the winter, RÚV reports; MAST had received significantly fewer reports from the public regarding sick or dead wild birds since last October, and the few samples that had been taken, did not yield any positive results.

Strict quarantine measures have, however, been in place to prevent the virus from being brought into the country by migratory birds. Poultry and other captive birds must, for example, be kept indoors or in covered enclosures.

Preparedness levels may need to be reconsidered, however, as a mallard discovered in a yard in Garðabær (in the capital region of Iceland) on March 31 was diagnosed with a severe case of avian flu. According to MAST, this is the first confirmed case of avian flu in Iceland this year, with the institution emphasising that the risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable.” It is, therefore, essential for all poultry owners to take “the utmost precautions.”

Numerous reports of sick and dead Kittiwakes

Over the weekend, MAST also received multiple reports of sick and dead geese, including one dead greylag goose in the western part of Seltjarnarnes, Reykjavík. Additionally, the institution also received reports of several sick and dead Kittiwakes (a common seabird in Iceland) in Keflavík, in the Reykjanes area. Since then, daily reports have been coming in about dead Kittiwakes in Bakkatjörn, Seltjarnarnes, and within a larger area on the western side of Reykjanes.

Samples were taken from both locations, but none of the samples yielded positive results for the avian flu. MAST states that it is unclear what is causing the sudden mass deaths. The case is currently under investigation and further samples will be taken. Meanwhile, MAST encourages the public to provide any information on the discovery of sick or dead birds and to report the presence of any other species in areas where there has been noticeable bird mortality.