North Star – Fish Farmer Magazine
The Icelandic fish farming saga is on the cusp of an exciting new chapter.
A new force in Atlantic salmon farming is starting to make its presence felt on the world stage: Iceland.
From being a small player just a few years ago, the country is rapidly moving up the ranks of aquaculture.
The Icelandic aquaculture industry took a big step forward last month when Samherji, the country’s largest conventional fishing and seafood processing company, unveiled a £ 263million plan to build a major resort land-based salmon farms on the coast a few kilometers south of the capital.
This innovative project, agreed with the HS Orka generator set, will be located next to a geothermal power station in Reykjanes which will supply electricity.
It will eventually produce 40,000 tonnes of salmon, or 6,000 tonnes more than the entire country caught in 2020. Other companies are aligning themselves with their own plans.
Iceland’s salmon production is predicted to exceed Scotland’s current 204,000 tonnes by 2030.
At present, the focus on this rugged island of 360,000 people – often referred to as the Land of Ice and Fire – has been on the spectacular eruption of Fagradalsfjall volcano, not too far from the project site. Samherji expected.
But in business circles, we talk about fish farming, how far it can go and its impact on the national economy.
Development is still at the puzzle stage with various pieces coming together, and the full picture is far from complete.
The two main fish farming regions are found at either end of the country – the West Fjords and East Fjords regions, with the somewhat isolated Samherji Project near Reykjavik in the southwest.
According to the Department of Finance and Economic Affairs, the value of fish farming exports are expected to double over the next two years to US $ 322 million (£ 232 million) per year – and continue to rise.
While trawl-caught cod remains king, farmed salmon was Iceland’s second-largest source of seafood exports at the start of this year.
According to official figures, the country saw its 2020 salmon production increase by more than 20% to 34,200 tonnes, which doesn’t seem like much compared to Norway, Scotland or the Faroe Islands. But only a decade ago, Iceland’s salmon harvest totaled just 1,000 tonnes.
It’s no surprise that a lot of serious investment comes from Norway. SalMar has a majority stake in Icelandic Salmon AS (Arnarlax), while Norway Royal Salmon (now part of the NTS group) has taken control of Arctic Fish. The two companies are planning other major investments.
Not everyone in government is happy that such an important industry is largely owned by outsiders. But traditional Icelandic fishing companies and local private investors are now showing increased interest.
Last year Icelandic Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson confirmed a “risk assessment” figure of 106,500 tonnes of salmon farming at sea.
This total has been increased from the previous valuation volume of 71,000 tonnes, and there may be additional leeway.
Samherji CEO Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson said in a newspaper interview Frettabladid earlier this year that, four or five years from now, three of the biggest seafood companies in terms of sales will be salmon farmers. Most of them, he added, will be Norwegians.
He said: “Norway produces around 1.3 million tonnes (of salmon) and is expected to reach 2.5 million tonnes within a decade. The value of Norwegian salmon farming is now at least 20 times that of all cod caught off the coast of Iceland. “
He was speaking before his company unveiled the Reykjanes power plant project and Iceland ordered a 13% reduction in its cod quota over concerns over stocks.
The advantage of salmon over wildlife, he argues, is the ability to deliver on time and a guarantee of quality. Unlike trawlers, salmon farms don’t have to deal with the harsh weather or the uncertainty of finding fish.
Iceland also has a number of important advantages over rivals like Norway. His farms are less likely to be plagued by biological problems such as lice or infectious salmon anemia (ISA). Very few farmed fish escaped into the country’s rivers last year.
Iceland is, however, geographically isolated, which means that exporting fish by air is generally more expensive.
Despite this, it has forged important trade links with key markets in the United States and the Far East.
The attitude of the Icelandic government towards fish farming has, according to some critics, been lukewarm in the past.
Companies regularly complain about the number of regulations and the time it takes to make a decision. Another issue that worries participating companies is the level of taxation.
But mentalities are changing and the launch of the new Icelandic aquaculture scorecard opening the sector to the country as a whole in April was a sign of that.
The country also has some of the best wild salmon fishing grounds in the northern hemisphere, and local sports groups, often made up of prominent foreign members, have consistently opposed plans to expand aquaculture. Some would like the industry to be pulled out of the country altogether.
But this point of view is not shared by most of those who live in the West Fjords (64,500 tons allowed) and the East Fjords (42,000 tons allowed) where most of the fishing takes place. the growth.
These were once regions with strong fishing economies which have declined over the years.
Today, these communities are transforming thanks to new jobs and investments from fish farming companies. And that’s just the beginning.
Arnarlax recently obtained approval to build housing for staff working on the company’s new projects.
It is estimated that within a year or two more than 1,800 people in the Westfjords will owe their income to aquaculture in one form or another.
For a country like the UK this may not seem like a large number, but in an area with urban populations numbering in the thousands, it is a substantial proportion of the workforce.
The good news is that aquaculture is attracting some of Iceland’s youngest and brightest. A few weeks ago, ten students from the College of Fisheries Technology in Grindavik completed their course in fish farming.
Teachers at the college say demand for aquaculture courses is increasing because the industry offers good job prospects and attractive salaries.
Some believe the country could and should have moved faster if it did not want to live in the shadow of its biggest rivals.
Iceland may not yet be in the first fish division, but the promotion is there.