Iceland reacts to fish escapes with ISK 2.2 billion for aquaculture oversight

The Icelandic Parliament has approved additional funds to develop oversight of the country's burgeoning aquaculture industry, following the recent Arctic Fish salmon escape.
An aquaculture farm outside the town of Isafjordur, Iceland, in the Icelandic westfjords.
An aquaculture farm outside the town of Isafjordur, Iceland, in the Icelandic westfjords. Photo: Adobe Stock.

Fish escapes from salmon farms in Iceland have become a source of national debate in the country, following the accidental release of salmon from Arctic Fish facilities in August.

In the wake of the controversy, the Icelandic Parliament has announced it has approved an extra ISK 2.2 billion [$15.9 / €15 billion] in additional funding for aquaculture oversight by authorities.

According to Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið, Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir said the decision followed concerns raised by Iceland's National Audit Office, which published a report on aquaculture in Iceland in January 2023. In particular, the Minister emphasised the need to prevent fish escapes.

Funding to support personnel and equipment for inspections

The funding will go to Iceland's Marine & Freshwater Research Institute and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (Matvælastofnun – MAST) specifically for aquaculture monitoring and control.

The funding will support a range of measures, including two underwater drones for inspection of sea pens. The Icelandic authorities are also changing their procedures on fish escapes, monitoring of feeding practices, and internal supervision within companies.

Iceland is also increasing its personnel dedicated to aquaculture inspection and monitoring, recently advertising six permanent positions for inspectors and veterinarians, Svavarsdóttir confirmed.

Penalties for fish escapes to be reviewed in forthcoming aquaculture bill

Announcing the new funding, Svavarsdóttir said she could not comment specifically on potential penalties for the Arctic Fish escape.

However, she confirmed that a new bill on aquaculture will be introduced at the Icelandic Parliament during the winter, which will address penalties for future accidental releases and what she described as "deficient internal oversight".

Arctic Fish police case still open

A police investigation has been opened into the Arctic Fish incident, with MAST warning that possible consequences could include fines and even imprisonment for up to two years. However, Icelandic authorities would need to prove the escape resulted from intentional or negligent acts or omissions.

"When we emptied the cage for harvesting, we had a deviation of 3,462 fish, equal to 2,6 % of the total amount in the cage," Arctic Fish CEO Stein Ove Tveiten confirmed to WeAreAquaculture on 21 August.

"We are deeply sorry that salmon has escaped from our cages. We have been working hard to minimize the effect of the escape and many employees have already participated in an internal review of the incident," he said.

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