Uncontained Aquaculture Threatens Iceland // Interview by Leonard Schoenberger

Iceland’s famously pristine waters and marine life, among them wild salmon stocks, are at risk from open net pen farming.

“This is Iceland’s national treasure, its legacy to future generations. People from all over the world escape to this remote, untouched island to experience its unspoilt nature, myself included. It would be tragic if the country went the way of Norway and Scotland, which have both seen incredible environmental devastation from salmon farms,” says Chad Pike, Chair of NASF US. “I call this type of farming ‘uncontained aquaculture’ because open nets allowing tons of raw waste, chemical-laced feed, and disease to flow out of high-density pens into the open waters around them.”

The Wading List spoke to Fridleifur Gudmundsson, Chair of NASF Iceland and Evlar Fridriksson, member of NASF Iceland, about the dangers of open net pen farming in Iceland, how the global hunger for salmon can be met and what you can do against uncontained aquaculture in Iceland.

Why is uncontained aquaculture harmful?

Gudmundsson: Uncontained aquaculture poses three grave threats to the environment and wild fish stocks: pollution, disease and lice, and genetic contamination.

Pollution: Thousands of salmon are grown in crowded net pens, fed meal made from soybeans, ground-up feathers, genetically-modified yeast, and chicken fat—a diet rich in chemicals, drugs, and dyes. This mixes with concentrated fish feces and falls through nets, smothering and contaminating aquatic life.

Lice & disease: High densities of trapped fish are vulnerable to infestation by disease and parasites. Sea lice is the biggest threat. They feed on the mucus, blood, and skin of salmon, eating fins, eroding skin, and causing constant bleeding and deep open wounds— even death. These lice are typically removed before coming to market, so consumers don’t even know their food was infested. They also attack wild smolt and salmonids migrating to and from the sea.

Genetic contamination: Some farmed salmon inevitably escape their net pens. When these fish breed with wild salmon, they create hybrid offspring that are ill-equipped to survive. Wild eggs fertilized by farmed salmon equal lost eggs. This is the largest threat to wild stocks and poses a threat to the genetic integrity that has evolved over thousands of years. Nobody has the right to do that for financial gain.

Has uncontained aquaculture worked elsewhere?

Fridriksson: Everywhere there’s been open net pen farming, you see impacts on wild salmon populations. By its nature, it’s really impossible for it to “work” from an environmental perspective, because it allows producers to literally dump tons of waste and chemicals into the open water: latest figures are a ½ ton of waste for every ton of salmon produced. Sea lice infestations, which are common even at lower stocking densities, spread to the outside environment as well, attacking smolt on their migration to sea.

Uncontained aquaculture only ‘works’ for producers, large foreign-owned multinational corporations who use it to cheaply grow fish at the expense of the public commons.

What is at stake in Iceland regarding wild Atlantic salmon?

Fridriksson: Iceland has one of the last remaining robust North Atlantic salmon spawning stock in the world. We work so hard in this country to manage our rivers, setting strict limits on the amount of rods allowed on any one river, monitoring and enforcing it with vigor… As Chad (Pike) said, it’s not only a national treasure, it’s also part of our international reputation and legacy. It would be unthinkable to allow these foreign companies to come in and just destroy it all.

The demand for salmon is increasing worldwide. How can this problem be addressed?

Gudmundsson: There are safer and better choices. Closed containment solutions are more environmentally friendly and do not threaten wild salmon stocks. These systems force aquaculture companies to address the pollution, disease and parasites. And because they’re closed, there are no escapes. Most importantly, they work and the solutions are being scaled up to meet the demand for salmon. Here in Iceland we have two producers, Matorka in the South and Samherji in the North. Abroad, companies like Atlantic Sapphire are building huge facilities the size of six football fields, to provide sustainable alternatives for consumers.

What can I as an individual do to prevent uncontained aquaculture in Iceland?

Fridriksson: Icelanders are just learning about this issue, but the more they know, the greater the resistance grows. Environmentalists, the culinary community, and ordinary residents are demanding a halt to any expansion of open net pen farming, and demanding a thorough environmental review and consideration of sustainable alternatives.

Gudmundsson: One key part of the solution is providing economic incentives for closed containment. Just like wind, solar power, and other new environmentally sensitive technologies, closed containment is competing in an unfair fight. It’s up to policy makers to level the playing field.

This is a tough fight and we’re up against a huge industry, with many resources. The more we can spread the message through word of mouth, social media, etc. the better. Icelanders need the support of the international community. They need your help. Share our story and let Parliament know the world is watching!

What’s the timeframe for this issue?

Gudmundsson: The bill could come out any day now and it is likely to be debated in Parliament in January 2019. So the time to let politicians know we care is now.

Can I get actively involved in the campaign?

Fridriksson: We’re always looking for new partners in the fight. Support from groups like NASF US, PatagoniaLoop, and others has really helped us since we’re a small, volunteer-run group. We welcome partners, donations, and any other form of assistance!

Ways to help:

Join the fight and sign the petition by visiting AgainstTheCurrent. Share it widely!

Educate yourself about sustainable seafood options before you go to a restaurant or grocery store. If enough consumers demand seafood that is responsibly farmed, big aquaculture companies will meet the demand by moving their production to closed containment systems.

#AgainstTheCurrent campaign launched in Iceland

Help us spread the word: #AgainstTheCurrent is fighting to protect Iceland from uncontained aquaculture, a dirty and environmentally devastating form of fish farming.

Iceland’s Parliament is set to consider a bill that would give the world’s largest aquaculture corporations unfettered access to the country’s famously pristine rivers and fjords, with dire consequences for the environment and local aquatic life. But in true Icelandic spirit, environmentalists, business owners, and residents are demanding a stop to the bill, demanding a thorough environmental review and consideration of sustainable alternatives.

#AgainstTheCurrent seeks to reverse the trend of destroying nature to cheaply produce fish.

Tell Iceland’s Parliament to freeze expansion and to support sustainable alternatives. Sign the petition and spread the word!

Mikael Frödin Sentenced for Trespassing

The Swedish journalist and author, Mikael Frödin, was sentenced by the Alta District Court for having documented conditions at Greig Seafood’s salmon farm in Norway, Altafjorden. Frödin claimed that the act was a journalistic obligation, and that there was no choice but to swim near the cages. “The public must know how the industry affects ecosystems, how bad animal husbandry is and how this food is produced,” says Frödin.

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Chad Pike Earns Top Salmon Conservation Honor

Photo Credit: Neville Crabbe/ASF

The 2018 Lee Wulff Salmon Conservation Award was presented to Chad R. Pike, chair of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (U.S.), for his key role in negotiating the recently signed agreement to suspend Greenland’s commercial salmon fishery for 12-years. A ceremony was held last night in New York at ASF’s annual Board of Directors dinner. Pictured from left are John Dillon, chair of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (U.S.), Chad Pike, and Bill Taylor, president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

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Journalist Sued by Norwegian Fish Farming Company

Norwegian fish farming company Grieg is suing journalist and author Mikael Frödin for trespassing in 2017 while filming fish farming facilities in the Alta fjord.

Mr. Frödin admits to trespassing, but objects to having committed a criminal act.

“We collected information, and it’s my journalistic obligation to show the public the negative impact of fish farming on ecosystems,” says Frödin.

The film and photo material obtained show diseased and deformed fish, neglected animals, negative ecological impact, and a significant risk for wild salmon stocks.

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Mass Resignations From Icelandic National Culinary Team: Reject Unsustainably Farmed Salmon

Fourteen chefs have quit the Icelandic National Culinary Team in protest over a sponsorship deal the National Chef’s Club made with a salmon farming company Arnarlax. The chefs who have quit the team in protest argue that the deal flies in the face of the team’s mission to promote only products of the highest quality, that are produced sustainably, and in full harmony with nature. Arnarlax farms salmon in open pens in the ocean.

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Countries agree to new measures for Greenland salmon fishery

Countries agree to new measures for Greenland salmon fishery

NASF, ASF conservation agreement leads to international cooperation

ST. ANDREWS, N.B. – Representatives of the Greenland government agreed to a zero commercial harvest for wild Atlantic salmon in 2018, 2019, and 2020 at last week’s annual assembly of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) in Portland, Maine.

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NASF / ASF Sign 12-Year Salmon Agreement with Greenland Fishermen

Dear NASF supporter,

Ten months ago, many of us travelled to Reykjavik to pay tribute to a legendary figure in the world of salmon conservation, Orri Vigfusson.   At the time, we did not yet know what the future of NASF would look like, but we pledged to preserve Orri’s legacy, to protect his life’s work and, in doing so, to continue to work together to fight for the survival of North Atlantic salmon.

I am happy to report that after months of negotiations, we have now secured a 12 year agreement with the Greenland fishermen’s union, KNAPK, to close their commercial salmon fishery.


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