"Lessons learned" following Icelandic Salmon's sea lice crisis, says CEO

Presenting Icelandic Salmon's Q3 results, CEO Björn Hembre said it should be "very possible" to avoid a similar situation in future if companies and authorities work together to monitor lice levels.
Salmon cultivated by Arnarlax, a wholly-owned company of Icelandic Salmon.
Salmon cultivated by Arnarlax, a wholly-owned company of Icelandic Salmon.Photo: Arnarlax / Icelandic Salmon.

"During the beginning of the quarter, we were reminded that we are working with nature and with biology, and that nature has its own way," said Icelandic Salmon CEO Björn Hembre, presenting the company's third quarter results.

"We experienced biological challenges [...] threatening the health and wellbeing of our fish," he said.

This might be seen as something of an understatement, with some reports suggesting that out-of-control sea lice infestations at both Icelandic Salmon (Arnarlax) and Arctic Fish salmon farms in the Westfjords had led to over 1 million fish needing to be culled by the companies.

While Icelandic Salmon raced to treat as many salmon as possible, the "unprecedented" lice levels forced the company to cull or harvest its fish early, which Hembre described as "the responsible thing to do".

However, he announced, this will mean a significant dent in profits during the final quarter of 2023, estimated at between 5-6 million euros.

"This means that we will have less fish available for harvest in 2024, and we will also have a one-off financial effect in Q4 2023, expected to be 5-6 million euros."

Calls for Icelandic authorities to work with companies to establish framework to control lice levels

Hembre suggested that both companies and authorities shared reponsibility in preventing future sea lice outbreaks.

"There are several lessons learned by the companies and by the authorities, and we have already taken steps to update our procedures and reduce the risk for similar incidents," Hembre said.

"During the coming months, there will be an evaluation of the incidents, where the companies and the authorities participate to set a framework that will prevent this from happening again."

"From our point of view, it's very possible to control lice levels in the Westfjords of Iceland if actions are done at the same time, and this applies both to the companies and to the authorities," he added.

No comment on precise number of fish culled, but CEO says company has "good system" in place to deal with lice in future

Asked if he expected sea lice infections to impact on future harvest volumes, the Icelandic Salmon CEO emphasised that the lice only affected one batch of fish.

"We don't expect the lice issues to affect 2025 harvest volumes. This was fish that was planned to be harvested in 2024," he said.

When asked to clarify the number of fish culled due to the sea lice incident, Hembre declined to comment.

When asked for further details on how the company planned to handle future sea lice risks, Hembre said, "I hope that together with the authorities we will find a better system for taking action when we see rising lice levels, but we will also make sure that we have sufficient capacity available."

"We have over the years been dealing with the lice in the good way, and there is no reason that we shouldn't do that for the future either. I'm pretty sure we will have a good system to deal with the lice for the future," he said.

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