Fish Processing Facility Closed, Dozens Laid Off

thorlakshofn iceland

A fish processing facility in the small southern town of Þorlákshöfn will be closed down. Vestmannaeyjar-based Ísfélagið, the oldest fishing operation in the country, will lay off their entire workforce in Þorlákshöfn this year, a total of 35 people, Mbl.is reports.

Blow to the community

In recent decades, several towns that rely on the fishing industry have seen facilities shut down or jobs moved away. Gestur Þór Kristjánsson, a councilman in Ölfus, the municipality Þorlákshöfn is a part of, said that the town is built around fishing and seafood processing and that Ísfélagið closing their facility is a blow to the community.

“We think it’s sad that a company like this is leaving the community,” he said. “This was one of the biggest fisheries operations in Þorlákshöfn.”

Hope for new jobs

Ísfélagið laid off 9 people in Þorlákshöfn earlier this year and the remaining 26 staff members learned on Wednesday that they should expect to be laid off. Most of them are residents of Þorlákshöfn. “I hope they get new jobs here,” said Gestur. “There is not a lot of unemployment here, so hopefully they can keep working here. They have worked here for a long time and have roots in the community.”

Director of Ísfélagið Stefán Friðriksson said that the foundation of their Þorlákshöfn processing disappeared after lobster fishing was stopped in 2021 in order to conserve the lobster population. Ísfélagið has operations remaining in Vestmannaeyjar in the south of Iceland, Siglufjörður in the north, and Þórshöfn in the northeast.

Iceland’s Surfers Fight to Save the Wave

Surfer by Snæfellsnes, West Iceland

Iceland’s surfers have started a petition to stop a harbour expansion that would destroy the country’s most popular and consistent surfing waves. The location in question is Þorlákshöfn, Southwest Iceland, where the local municipality’s plans to expand the harbour would destroy the very characteristics that have made the site a prime surfing location.

The harbour expansion has also stirred controversy outside the surfing community, as it is spurred by a mining project in the region that would use the expanded harbour for export.

Steinarr Lár Steinarsson, chairman of the Icelandic Surfing Association (Brimbrettafélag Íslands) told The Inertia that the association has begun working with harbour designer Simon Brandi Mortensen and the Australian company DHI Group to propose alternate designs for the harbour that would not negatively affect the waves. If that doesn’t work, Steinarr Lár said the association would take legal action against the development.

The petition’s wording is hopeful. “We believe that solutions can be found to satisfy all parties and ensure that this unique place is preserved,” it reads in part.

Surfing was first introduced to Icelanders by American soldiers who surfed from the army base in Keflavík. They were the first to discover the best surfing spots in the country, but the sport didn’t quite catch on among the locals. Ten years ago, there were around 20-30 regular surfers in the country, but in recent years, the community has grown to include hundreds of surfers.

Read more about surfing in Iceland here.

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.”

Winter Weather Wreaks Havoc

Snowstorms in south and southwest Iceland wreaked havoc on Saturday, leading to road closures, the opening of additional emergency centres, dozens of calls to ICE-SAR to rescue people from cars stranded on roadways, and flight disruptions, RÚV reports.

See Also: It’s Going to Be a White Christmas

Roads around south and southwest Iceland—including the pass over Hellisheði and Mosfellsheiði heaths, Þrengsli, and around Kjalarnes peninsula—closed on Saturday, with teams struggling in low visibility and dense snow to clear a path, even as abandoned cars on the roadway slowed the process considerably.

“Yes, there’s been plenty to do,” said ICE-SAR’s information officer Jón Þór Víglundsson. “Not long ago, there were reports of cars on Mosfellsheiði and rescue teams were called out to deal with it. There were as many as 15 cars. Right as they were getting there, we got news of cars on Kjósskárðsvegur that were in trouble. So this is basically the situation in the southwest, from Borgarfjörður to east of Selfoss. People are finding themselves in trouble.”

Indeed, roads in and around Selfoss were impassable after a night and morning of heavy snow and Grétar Einarsson, foreman of the Icelandic Road Administration in Selfoss, also noted that cars that had gotten stuck on roadways were slowing the clearing process significantly—as were vehicles following directly behind the snowplows as the roads were being cleared.

But while he urged people to stay inside until roads had been sufficiently cleared, Grétar remained jolly. “People asked for Christmas snow and their prayers were clearly answered!”

Most rescue call-outs in Grindavík

Rescue teams responded to dozens of calls all over the country, but the most calls came from around the town of Grindavík, located on the southern coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

“We’ve got snow accumulation, wind, sleet, driving snow, hailstorms, some thunder—it just doesn’t quit,” said Bogi Adolfsson, who leads the Þorbjörn Search and Rescue team in Grindavík. The team’s main challenge on Saturday was helping people were stuck on Rte. 43, also called Grindavíkurvegur, which closed that morning and stranded a number of people, mostly foreign tourists, who were trying to make their way back to the capital. The Red Cross opened an aid station in the afternoon to provide shelter for those who’d been rescued.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, there were a reported 40 cars stuck on Grindavíkurvegur, many of which were driven by tourists hoping to go to the Blue Lagoon. “A number of tourists have plans and there’s a steady stream of people headed toward the Blue Lagoon,” said Gríndavík detective superintendent Ásmundur Rúnar Gylfason. “They’ve just decided that they’ve got to go to the Blue Lagoon.” Many people en route to the popular destination were not aware of the road closure, and so police and rescue teams were stationed at the intersection with Reykjanesbraut to turn them away, but that caused traffic snares as well.

Further east along the southern coast, in Þorlákshöfn, about a dozen people spent much of the day at the emergency centre that had been opened in the primary school. Many of these individuals had had to spend the night there. “These are people who ICE-SAR rescued from their cars and brought here,” said school principal Ólína Þorleifsdóttir, who said they tried to make those who were stranded comfortable with blankets, bread, cookies, and coffee.

Flight disruptions

Snow accumulation on the runway at Keflavík necessitated the airport closing temporarily for both departures and landings. All flights to Europe were delayed due to weather on Saturday morning, some for upwards of four hours. A flight from Stockholm, Sweden had to land amidst lightning during the latter half of the day.

Both Icelandair flights from Reykjavík to Ísafjörður in the Westfjords had to be cancelled on Saturday, as did the first flight from the capital to Egilsstaðir in East Iceland. Flights from Reykjavík to Akureyri in North Iceland were delayed and one long-delayed flight from Akureyri to Reykjavík took off five hours after it was scheduled, only to be forced to return to Akureyri half-way to the capital due to weather conditions.

As of 7:00 PM, Icelandair had cancelled all flights until the morning, that is, 11 flights to North America, a flight to London Gatwick, and another to Copenhagen. All foreign passengers and those on connecting flights were put up in hotels at the airline’s expense. Icelandair PR representative Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir said delays could be expected when flights resumed.

This article was updated.

Proposed Sand Mine Would Operate Trucks at 7- to 8-Minute Intervals Along Ring Road

Mýrdalssandur

Large transport trucks could be driving along Iceland’s South Coast at 7- to 8-minute intervals – 24 hours a day – if German company EP Power Minerals’ plan to open a sand mine east of Vík is realised. The sand would be exported to Europe and possibly North America, where it would be used as an additive in cement. The company plans to ship the material from Þorlákshöfn, but the local mayor says the town does not have adequate facilities for its storage and EP Power Minerals is yet to apply for a lot in the harbour.

An environmental evaluation of the proposal published earlier this month judged the project’s impact on traffic and noise pollution to be “considerably negative.” Its impact on birdlife, plant life, and the geology of the area was, however, evaluated as “insignificantly negative.”

Former landowners tried to sell to Icelandic state

EP Power Minerals purchased the land where the proposed mine is to be located in 2020. Some 15 km [9.3 mi] east of Vík í Mýrdal, the property stretches from Kötlujökull glacier down to the coast, and consists mostly of sand plains.

The property was listed for sale in 2016 by its former owners, three siblings who have stated that they made several unsuccessful attempts to sell it to the Icelandic state. The land was sold to EP Power Minerals through the company Mýrdalssandur ehf., in which three Icelanders own a 10% share (through the company Lásastígur ehf.).

Trucks at 7- to 8-minute intervals

The proposed mine would be located by Hafursey mountain and north of the Ring Road, which runs through the property. The proposed mining area covers 15.5 square kilometres and it is estimated that the usable sand within the area measures around 146 million cubic metres. According to the mining plans, there should be enough material within that area for 100 years of mining.

EP Power Minerals plans to transport the sand by truck to Þorlákshöfn. The amount of material would entail a full truck leaving the mine every 15 minutes, and empty trucks returning from Þorlákshöfn at the same rate. This means that transport trucks will be driving at 7-8 minute intervals 24 hours a day along the ring road between Vík and Hveragerði, as well as on the roads between Hveragerði and Þorlákshöfn.

Concerns about impact on traffic and roads

Residents of the capital area and South Iceland have expressed concern at the impact this transport would have on traffic and roads in the area. Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, also expressed concern about the impact the mine and its associated traffic would have.

“There has been talk about the tourism industry in that regard, but it’s recognised that one heavy truck such as those that transport fish between regions, it damages the road to the equivalent of 10,000 Yaris cars or small rental cars,” Jóhannes Þór told Vísir, expressing doubt as to whether road infrastructure could handle so much heavy transport. He added that a project such as the mine would affect the experience of tourists in the area.

Environmental impacts considered negligible

The environmental evaluation conducted by Efla and published earlier this month judged many of the mine’s negative impacts to be negligible. Its impact on plant life and birdlife in the area was considered “insignificantly negative,” as the sand plains in question are not a habitat for endangered or protected plant species and the mine would not greatly impact nesting areas.

Despite the fact that the mine would have a “direct and permanent effect on the sedimentation of Mýrdalssandur,” the effect would only be on a “tiny percentage of the total formation,” lowering the surface by 10 metres at a site where the sand is 120 metres thick. Therefore, Efla’s assessment was that the overall impact on geological formations would be “insignificantly negative.” The same was determined of the mine’s impact on tourism and outdoor recreation in the area.

The project’s climate impact was considered to be “considerably positive,” as the material produced would replace cement clinker and would therefore reduce carbon emissions due to concrete production by 800 million kg of CO2 equivalents annually (when emissions due to transportation are taken into account).

Construction Begins on Largest Residential Neighborhood Outside of the Capital Area

thorlakshofn iceland

Construction began on a new residential neighbourhood in the south coast village of Þorlákshöfn last week. Vísir reports that the neighbourhood, christened Móabyggð, will home 450 residents in 78 apartments and, when completed, will be the biggest housing development in South Iceland—and possibly the whole country, outside of the capital area.

According to an announcement about the project, the apartments will be two to four rooms, ranging from 60 to 95 m2 [645 — 1022 ft2]. The buildings, which will have poured concrete construction, will be built on site, have external insulation, and aluminium cladding. The 78 apartments will be configured in 11 low-rise apartment buildings connected by ‘eco-streets,’ which—with an eye to the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels—will feature charging stations to allow people to charge electric vehicles. Eco-friendly materials will also be used in the buildings’ construction.

The apartments will not be uniform, but rather will have varied construction and offer many of the same advantages of freestanding, single-family homes. The neighbourhood’s location was chosen with the needs of residents in mind, close to all major services such as health care, kindergartens and schools, gyms, and the swimming pool.

Þorlákshöfn is located on the southern coast of Iceland in the municipality of Ölfus, just under an hour away from Reykjavík. It currently has 1,847 residents and is an important working harbour with a ferry that runs back and forth from the Westman Islands. Its primary industries are fish processing and ship-outfitting, as well tourist services.

In the coming years, Þorlákshöfn authorities plan to attract more ship traffic to their harbour with an expansion that would accommodate larger ships. Fish farming on land is also a growing industry in the municipality.

Þorlákshöfn Harbour Now Fifth Busiest in Iceland

thorlakshofn iceland

There was a 23% increase in transport through Þorlákshöfn harbour in Southwest Iceland between 2019 and 2020, according to newly released figures from Statistics Iceland. The ports of Reykjavík, Grundartangi, Straumsvík and Mjóeyri in Reyðarfjörður maintained their positions as the four busiest ports in Iceland in 2020. The rankings are based on tonnes loaded and unloaded at the ports.

Local authorities in Þorlákshöfn are planning an ISK 3 billion [$23.3 million; €20 million] expansion of the harbour that would allow it to accommodate ships up to 180 metres long and 30 metres wide. The renovation would take three years to complete but the new harbour would be usable within two years, according to Elliði Vignisson, mayor of Ölfus municipality.

By docking in Þorlákshöfn instead of Reykjavík, cargo ships would shorten their journey between Iceland and Europe by up to 24 hours, which would lessen the carbon footprint of transport, Elliði stated. A larger harbour in the town could also prove beneficial for the tourism industry, the mayor argued.

Four Fish Farms On Land Planned In Þorlákshöfn

thorlakshofn iceland

Construction on what is to become the country’s largest fish farm on land is begun, a short distance from Þorlákshöfn in southern Iceland, RÚV reports. The fish farm could produce over 20,000 tonnes of salmon per year and create around 150 jobs. Three more companies plan to start fish farming on land in the area, which requires a great deal of energy.

Landeldi is owned by six Icelanders, one of whom is Ingólfur Snorrason. He told RÚV that an environmental impact assessment for 6.000-tonne annual production has already been approved but that the company intends to increase their production to 20,000 tonnes before long. He stated that export to the US market was under consideration and that the fish farm could create around 150 jobs in the area. “We’ve started production. We have a spawning centre close to Hveragerði where we have around 800,000 roe and young fish. Let’s call it our first generation.” He added that the fish will have grown large enough to be slaughtered and sold by the end of next year.

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.

This is not the only fish farm on land planned in and around Þorlákshöfn as three other companies intend to start such a business, Fiskifréttir reported earlier this month. Þorlákshöfn Mayor Elliði Vignisson stated that companies like this required a lot of energy and that he believed the government should ensure that energy prices for environmentally friendly food production should be lower. A fish farm on land capable of producing 20,000 tonnes of fish requires around 120-megawatt hours per year.

 

 

More Than 100 Lightning Strikes Recorded During Thunderstorm

Rain in Reykjavík

More than 100 lightning strikes were recorded in Southwest Iceland Wednesday night, RÚV reports. They were accompanied by thunderstorms around the village of Þorlákshöfn.

Both thunder and lightning are relatively rare occurrences in Iceland, although there was also a notable thunderstorm in the capital area earlier this year. According to the lightning advisory on Iceland’s Civil Defense Office’s website, it’s estimated that there are between 250 and 600 lightning flashes a year in the whole country. By comparison, the world’s “principal lightning hotspot,” i.e. the southern end of a single lake (Lake Maracaibo) in Venezuela, experiences 232.52 flashes of lightning per square kilometre per year.

Because thunderstorms are so rare, special effort is generally made to advise the public about safety measures during storms. Elín Björk Jónsdóttir, a meteorologist with the Icelandic Met Office, posted about the proliferation of lightning strikes on Facebook on Wednesday night, noting that people should stay out of pools and hot pots during the storm, and seek shelter if they are outside in the area.

“Icelanders, however, find me very irritating when I point out that they should get out of hot tubs and swimming pools during a thunderstorm,” added Elín Björk. “One even told me nobody else in the entire world does that.”

Meteorologist Óli Þór Árnason noted that the majority of the lightning strikes occurred outside of residential areas—a relief, in that there aren’t great protections in place against lightning in Iceland, such as surge protectors. This means that a lightning strike too close to a town or home can do a lot of damage to home appliances.