Salmon smolts' escape in land-based aquaculture facility in Iceland

It was discovered by Samherji's staff who immediately informed about the smolts' escape to the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority.
View of Samherji Fish Farm in Öxarfjörður, where the salmon smolt escape being investigated by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority occurred.

View of Samherji Fish Farm in Öxarfjörður, where the salmon smolt escape being investigated by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority occurred.

Photo: Samherji.

Icelandic salmon producer Samherji Fish Farm discovered last week that smolts in its land-based aquaculture facility at Núpsmýri, in Öxarfjörður, had entered one of the smolt units' settling ponds. The company immediately notified the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), which has requested data and information on the company's response and is investigating the escape incident.

Escapes are one of Icelanders' major concerns about aquaculture activity because of their potential impact on the wild salmon population - the recent incident at Lerøy Seafood Group in neighboring Norway gives an idea of this concern. However, if they do occur, they tend to happen in marine facilities, and it is rare that, as in this case, they occur in land-based facilities.

At least 868 smolts outside the ponds

According to information provided by MAST, the escape was discovered when, during staff inspections on May 6, smolts were observed in the settling ponds of the facility. The smolts in question were not sea-ready, as they were approximately 70-80 grams each and not yet smoltified.

"It cannot be ruled out that the smolts had smoltified in the settling ponds and escaped into the sea," MAST's release stated. "According to information from the operator, 868 smolts were found outside the ponds, but it is unclear at this point how many smolts escaped in total and therefore, also unclear how many smolts were present in the settling ponds."

After notifying the authorities of the escape on the same day of the potential accident, Samherji reinforced the warnings on the effluent from the settling pond to the intake.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority said the salmon farmer is already working on recapturing fish from the settling ponds and conducting a more accurate count to assess the extent of the escape.

Escape barriers didn't work as intended

Following an initial investigation, Samherji said it seems that a malfunction in the new smolt system of the facility caused the smolts to be sucked into the effluent box of the smolt unit and out through the effluent pipes, into the intermediate well, and from there into the settling pond.

"Escape barriers are in place at three points in the effluent system of the smolt unit: at each smolt unit, in the intermediate well, and in the settling pond. The escape barriers at the effluent box and the intermediate well do not appear to have functioned as intended, but they have already been reviewed and reinforced," the salmon farmer explained in a statement on the escape.

"The amount of smolts involved was insignificant, and efforts are being made to recapture them from the settling pond in consultation with the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority," it continued.

In its release, Samherji Fish Farm regretted the incident and informed it had immediately started investigating the causes of the escape, as well as initiating possible improvements to prevent such incidents in the future, and implementing a compensation plan. In addition, the company recalled it has been engaged in land-based aquaculture for 25 years without such incidents, operating under strict regulations and quality standards and emphasizing the conduct of the activity sustainably and safely.

About Samherji

Founded in 1983, Samherji - which celebrated its 40th anniversary with a new investment hub supporting local entrepreneurs - operates fishing, fish processing, and aquaculture in Iceland and is one of the largest seafood companies in the country. Its products are produced under the ICE FRESH SEAFOOD brand, and the sales company Samherja Ice Fresh Seafood is responsible for distribution to customers.

The company aims to operate in the best possible harmony with its environment, promote sustainable utilization of fish stocks, maintain good management of marine resources, as well as maximize the use of raw materials and energy.

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