Björk Enlists Rosalía in Campaign Against Fish Farming in Iceland

Singer Björk

Björk and Rosalía are releasing a song to protest against Icelandic aquaculture, coinciding with a related public demonstration on October 7. Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries proposed a stricter legal framework to mitigate the industry’s environmental impact on Wednesday.

Proceeds going towards the fight against aquaculture

Björk has partnered with Spanish singer Rosalía in the fight against aquaculture in Iceland; the pair has announced the release of a song in October, and Björk encourages all Icelanders to attend a protest against fish farming at Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík on Saturday, October 7. Icelandic musician Bubbi is also set to perform. The two artists plan to use the proceeds from the song to support locals in legal cases against aquaculture companies.

“I want to release a song that Rosalía and I wrote together. The proceeds will go towards the fight against aquaculture in Iceland. The song will be released in October,” Björk stated in an announcement on Instagram, where she also shared a snippet from the song.

As previously noted, a protest against aquaculture is scheduled for Saturday, October 7. Seven associations are organising the protest, stating that it’s “now or never for the wild salmon.” Mbl.is reported yesterday that Björk would appear at Saturday’s protest alongside Rosalía.

Survival of wild salmon under threat

In her Instagram post, Björk stated that Iceland had the largest untouched wilderness in Europe, observing that in the summer “sheep have roamed free in the mountains” and “fish have swum unrestricted in rivers, lakes, and fjords.”

Given the pristine state of Iceland’s nature, it was a “big shock” when Icelandic and Norwegian businessmen started setting up fish farms in the majority of Iceland’s fjords, according to Björk. She went on to explain that she and others were at a loss at how these farms had been operated for the better part of a decade without any regulatory framework or legislation.

“This has already had a devastating effect on wildlife,” Björk observed, stating that the farmed fish had suffered in “horrid health conditions,” noting that many of them had escaped into local streams, potentially spelling the extinction of wild salmon in Iceland.

“There is still a chance to save the last wild salmon of the north!” Björk stated. She also urged the aforementioned companies to cease their operations and expressed her desire to help implement new laws and regulations in the Icelandic legal environment to protect nature. The protests at Austurvöllur were about transforming the will of the people into law, she concluded by saying.

Draft of stricter policy presented

As reported by IR yesterday, the Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir presented the draft of a new legal framework for fish farming in Iceland on Wednesday. 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.

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.

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.

Escaped Farmed Salmon Caught in an Icelandic River

The farmed salmon is larger than the wild salmon, wounded by salmon lice, with torn tails and damaged gill flaps.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1544118445301{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Today Matís, a government-owned, non-profit, independent research company, confirmed by DNA testing that two salmon recently caught in Fífustaðadalsá river in Arnarfjörður fjord were farmed salmon of a Norwegian origin. The fjord is where Iceland’s largest salmon farming company, Arnarlax, keeps their open sea pens and earlier this year, a considerable number of farmed salmon of Norwegian origin escaped their pens. The exact number of the escaped fish couldn’t be established. The salmon caught in the small  Fífustaðadalsá were female and ready to spawn, which could have had devastating consequences for the wild salmon stock in the river.

Female fish about to spawn

Biologist Jóhannes Sturlaugsson has been monitoring fish stocks of three small rivers in Ketildalir valley by Arnarfjörður fjord for four years. The wild stocks in these rivers are very small, which makes it easy to spot any changes. Jóhannes caught every fish in the Fífustaðadalsá river with dip nets, measured, and tagged them, before releasing them. The native spawning stock consisted of twenty salmon and their spawning season was almost over. But in the river, they also caught the two large female fish that looked markedly different. They had large wounds caused by salmon lice, damaged fins and gill flaps, and torn tails: typical characteristics of farmed salmon. Their origin was later confirmed by DNA tests.

“Four farmed salmon have been caught in Icelandic fishing rivers this year. These two make for a marked increase and they are the first confirmed examples of mature farmed salmon about to spawn in an Icelandic river. I think we caught them in the eleventh hour. One would have spawned in a matter of hours and the other in a few days,” Jóhannes says.

Native wild salmon under threat

Asked about what’s at stake if farmed salmon spawn in an Icelandic river, Jóhannes points to Norway as an example. Wild Norwegian salmon is struggling, even though their farmed salmon is a Norwegian stock. “Each river has a special stock of salmon, that has adapted to the environment and evolved for thousands of years, each stock differing slightly in when it migrates to the sea, how long it stays there, how it spawns, how it’s built to jump waterfalls and so on. When you mix foreign DNA into the gene pool the damage is done. The adaptation might disappear, and the worst-case scenario is that the stock goes extinct.”

Jóhannes says there’s even more risk involved. “Farmed salmon spawns later than wild salmon and when doing so can dig up their eggs and replace them with its own, destroying the eggs laid out earlier by native salmon.”

A more detailed interview with Jóhannes can be found in the Dec-Jan issue of Iceland Review, out now. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”107304,107300,107296,107298″ column=”2″ image_size=”full” hover_scenarios=”none”][/vc_column][/vc_row]