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Iceland farmed salmon production expected to grow 50% in 2019

SalMar's intention to buy up 100 percent of Arnarlax shows the 'viability' of the industry in Iceland.

Iceland’s salmon farming industry is set to really take off this year, with production forecast to grow nearly 50 percent compared with 2018, as more farms come on line and traditional obstacles to growth ease.

According to figures from Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), Atlantic salmon production in the country is expected to grow 49 percent from 13,448 metric tons in 2018 to around 20,000 metric tons this year.

Gisli Jonsson, a veterinary officer with the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), told IntraFish the increase is mainly the result of more farms coming online.

“We have a new farm -- Arctic Sea Farm in Dyrafjördur -- which started harvesting salmon in January 2019,” said Jonsson.

In addition, the farm Laxar fiskeldi in Reydarfjördur, which started harvesting salmon in October 2018, will be coming into routine harvesting schedules year-round in 2019, he said.

Fiskeldi Austfjarða, which started harvesting in spring 2018, will also come into “full size” production in 2019 and Arnarlax will keep on in full production. If everything is "normal," volumes might even increase some this year.

e687f5dc843a3d31bee92fe7540b2fac Photo: Icelandic Food and Veterinary Association

Industry progression

Kristjan Davidsson, former manager of the Icelandic Aquaculture Association (IAA) before it was merged with Fisheries Iceland (Samtök Fyrirtækja í Sjávarútvegi - SFS) earlier this year, told IntraFish “the industry is indeed progressing.”

“The sector in Iceland is now an attractive investment prospect, which has been demonstrated by SalMar going after an additional stake in Arnarlax,” said Davidsson. “But all companies are progressing, increasing production, and getting new licenses.”

The country’s salmon farming sector had “stones in the road," over the past few years, Davidsson noted – facing various legal disputes and appeals – but now “the industry is progressing in a very good way."

The appeals against the salmon farmers -- which have predominantly been brought by those in Iceland’s wild salmon industry -- have been rejected by the courts, and many producers are looking for new licenses.

Although there are around 20 fish farming companies operating in Iceland – within land-based, sea-based, smolt and on-growing operations – there are only four main producers.

“These companies are producing less than 15,000 metric tons, which is minuscule compared with other nations, but they are growing rapidly," Davidsson said.

“There is potential to reach 150,000 metric tons ultimately – so a 10-fold growth -- but that will take quite a few years. The industry is developing gradually, and learning.”

Little by little

One new license is due to be issued by the authorities in the coming weeks, according to Gisli Jonsson.

This amounts to 4,000 metric tons of salmon in Faskrudsfjordur in the East Fjords and will be given together both to Laxar Fiskeldi (operating in Reydarfjordur) and Fiskeldi Austfjarda (operating in Berufjordur), he said.

However, there are bottlenecks resulting in delays in issuing licenses -- most notably the recent legal disputes but also a need to update the legal framework, said Davidsson.

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The country’s Minister of Fisheries expects new updated legislation to pass through parliament in the coming weeks.

“The framework is modernizing, and all companies are applying for licenses,” Davidsson said.

In addition, those rural areas which previously opposed salmon farming, “are slowly coming around” to the idea, he said.

“The areas have been losing out on fishing quotas due to consolidation and are being rejuvenated by the growth in aquaculture, which is producing a lot of jobs,” said Davidsson. “So, there is a changing sentiment in rural areas, and the tide is turning. There is a new optimism, which after 2-3 years, is a very welcome development.”

Although sea lice is not a big problem currently in Iceland, Davidsson said the industry is prepared for this scenario as it could come with increased volumes.

“But the extra investment by SalMar confirms viability of the industry in Iceland," he said.

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