Agriculture Committee in Iceland Recommends against Salmon Farm Expansion


Iceland committee: Govít should stop granting new salmon farming licenses

By Neil Ramsden Jun 06, 2017

Iceland's Agriculture Genetics Committee has recommended the government suspends the issuance of licenses for salmon farming in open sea pens until more is known about the environmental impacts.

The public body -- formed of experts and composed by Iceland's minister of fisheries and agriculture -- warned that too little is known about how farming fertile Norwegian salmon in Icelandic waters can impact on wild salmon, and suggested that no more licenses are issued "at least until further knowledge has been obtained of the environmental impact of existing farming in the sea, including what has already been permitted".

Priority measures include monitoring the numbers of farmed salmon in rivers -- in the form of escapees -- as well as at aquaculture sites, and monitoring of genetic mixing, it said.

"Plans for large numbers of salmonids in open sea pens have unforeseen consequences", it said.

When in 2014 the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority -- known as Mast -- drew up a salmon farming roadmap for the next four years, it noted 2013 farmed volumes had been 3,000 metric tons, with operating licenses issued for around 20,000t.

The annual production in 2016, on the other hand, was 8,400t, with operating licenses for over 40,000t issued. In addition, applications for up to 150,000t have been filed.

"The landscape has therefore completely changed from 2014, and there is reason to pause and collect further knowledge of the possible consequences of issuing licenses on such radically increased volumes," said the genetics committee.

It added that it does not oppose aquaculture, "as long as it is done in such a way that it does not endanger genetic resources such as wild Icelandic salmon stocks".

Kristian Matthiasson of Icelandic salmon farmer Arnarlax told Undercurrent News this was "an example of anti-farming propaganda".

"Our salmon is the same Norwegian strain as used in Scotland, Ireland, the Faroes and Canada, and governments in all these countries aim to increase their share of salmon farming. We expect the same will happen in Iceland."

Governments in Iceland are having a risk assessment carried out in order to protect wild salmon, he said; in addition approximately 80% of the coastline is already closed to farming, to protect the wild fish.

"We are relatively relaxed over all this and keep our focus on the wellbeing of our salmon; we are proud of the quality of our Icelandic naturally-raised concept," he added.

Waiting for triploid salmon?

The genetics committee went further, stating that it opposes the farming of fertile Norwegian salmon stock on the Icelandic coast altogether, referring to Iceland's own Nature Conservation Act and a study into genetic interactions between farmed and wild salmon, published in 2017 by Kevin Glover of Norway's Institute of Marine Research (IMR).

"The committee believes that the use of fertile salmon in open sea pens can cause irreversible changes in the genetic composition of Icelandic salmon stocks, with unforeseen consequences."

The committee noted the effects of salmon farming in Norway, where one study estimated the number of escapes each year likely outweighs the numbers of wild-spawning salmon.

Another study, involving 175 salmon stocks in Norway (85% of the resource), detected "high levels" of genetic mixing in 50 stocks (29%).

This latter study was co-authored by Kjetil Hindar of IMR. He believes "continued infiltration in Norway causes salmon in nature to originate from farmed salmon, rather than wild salmon, and that currently underway is a process that changes wild salmon stocks significantly".

He believes the same will happen in Iceland, but slower, due to "less related strains", said the genetics committee. "He considers it best for Icelanders to prepare for the use of better farming technology than is currently used, for example using non-fertile salmon."

The committee also recommended further research on the use of triploid, non-fertile strains, as well as investigating the use of other methods of aquaculture than open sea pens, such as land-based farming.

Earlier in 2017 Iceland's federation of Icelandic river owners issued a statement protesting plans by Dyrfiskur -- which trades as Arctic Fish -- to expand its salmon farming to two new fjords.

The company already holds a licence to farm a Norwegian strain of Atlantic salmon in Dyrafjordur, and has applied to expand that considerably, with a submission to the country's National Planning Agency for a further 8,000t of licenses.

The river owners protested the use of an "imported Norwegian strain of fertile salmon for its open seacage farm", and said this was in "stark contrast to the ban imposed in Norway on farming foreign strains of salmon on the Norwegian coast, due to the risk of genetic contamination".

Arctic Fish is 50% owned by Norway Royal Salmon (NRS), and river owners were especially irked that NRS would export Norwegian, fertile salmon to Iceland, when at home, the 'green' licenses it won back in 2014 depend on sterile, triploid salmon.

"Serious environmental problems for wild Norwegian salmon stocks has led to a moratorium on additional licences to farm fertile salmon in open sea cages in Norwegian fjords," it said.

At that time, Arctic Fish CEO Sigurdur Petursson told Undercurrent that Icelandic sea farming is subject to extensive regulations already enforced by the government. "The limitations that were enforced in 2004 were set to ensure the safety of the wild salmon stocks. Around 70% of the Icelandic coastline is blocked to sea farming."

Sterile salmon farming is in the early stages, and has future potential for the industry, he added. "Authorities and other stakeholders will undoubtedly follow the developments closely and, if successful, there is a chance to pacify some of the opposing views of fish farming."

In Iceland there is interest in this field, he said, and Arctic Fish is participating in a joint venture research project. This project intends to estimate the potential for sterile salmon farming in Iceland.

"As such this is a long-term research project, and this type of farming needs to be developed more before large scale production and farming can commence. In Norway, the magnitude of sterile fish farming is relatively very small -- less than 0.2 % of the total harvest in Norway last year."

Contact the reporter neil.ramsden@undercurrentnews.com