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'Eco-friendly' Icelandic salmon farmer has big plans

Company looking to focus on quality rather than quantity; manages to command premium prices for product.

Fact file

  • Farm: Ice Fish Farm
  • Location: Iceland
  • Species: Salmon
  • Production volume: 2,000 metric tons per year; licences for 11,000 metric tons
  • Production system: sea cages
  • Markets: United States, China

Icelandic salmon and trout farmer Ice Fish Farm is using its eco-friendly credentials to grow its production and target markets across the globe.

Established by three investors in the summer of 2012, the company is still very much in its "building stages," but has licenses to produce up to 11,000 metric tons of salmon and trout when fully up and running, Chairman and founder Gudmundur Gislason told IntraFish.

The company operates in Iceland's eastern fjords -- Berufjordur and Fáskrudsfjordur in particular.

In addition to the cages, the company also has a hatchery producing smolt up to 400 grams, and a processing facility where it processes both whole fish and fillets.

"We put in the sea around 1 million smolts this year, but we're growing in volumes," said Gislason. "A very important part is to have big smolts to compensate for the cold sea in Iceland."

The cold temperatures mean fish grow slower than in competing countries such as Norway and Scotland. However the cold temperatures also mean there are few problems with disease or sea lice, said Gislason.

This is part of the reason Ice Fish Farm was awarded the AquaGap certification in September, he said.

"It shows our processes are good throughout the chain, but we have clean water and cold sea, so there are also no sea lice and no treatments, which is one of the qualifications of AquaGap," said Gislason.

AquaGap certifies both the farm and harvesting station, so it covers the whole chain – from the smolt to the sea cages, the harvesting and processing of the fish.

From what the company produces, the majority is exported.

"They are mainly now going to the US," said Gislason, where buyers are eager to source the most sustainably produced fish.

In many ways it is harder to grow salmon and trout in Iceland, but in other ways it is easier.

"We don't have any diseases or sea lice, which seem to be the biggest headache for other producers, it just takes a few months longer to reach the harvest weight, taking around 18 months," he said.

Nevertheless, the salmon is a premium product which is targeted for a premium market and therefore can command a premium price.

"Prices are going up and down -- but they are at a higher level than in Norway, about 10-20 percent higher," said Gislason.

In terms of markets, retailers in the United States are the main focus for Ice Fish Farm at the moment, as well as China.

"USA is the biggest market at the moment, but Iceland has a free trade agreement with China, which is also a promising market for us," he said. "We are looking to enter the Chinese market, but it takes time to build up the customers and the markets."

In general the Icelandic salmon industry is growing "rapidly" right now, added Gislason, with several farms building up their activities.

Ice Fish Farm is applying for extra licenses to increase production up to 24,000 metric tons.

For now the company is producing 2,000 metric tons per year. Put in perspective, the whole of Iceland's sea cages are producing a combined 7,000 metric tons while land based arctic char is producing  around 5,000 metric tons.

But Gislason does not see land-based as the future for salmon and trout.

"Land based is very good for arctic char, but for trout and salmon we are not going there," he said.

"We have good areas in the sea to make use of and that is a lot better quality product."

The company will market its product based on the Icelandic provenance, added Gislason, making the most of its made in Iceland, premium, fresh qualities, coming from pure nature, and of good quality.