Samherji has come under a lot of heat in the past year for its fishing activities, but it hasn't deterred the Icelandic whitefish giant from growth, and it is now eyeing potential in the aquaculture sector, a company director told IntraFish.

At present the group's aquaculture subsidiary, Samherji Fiskeldi, holds the licenses to produce 6,500 metric tons of salmon (or charr) annually, in three land-based farms and two smolt sites. Last year, the company harvested 4,800 metric tons of salmon and charr combined.

And at the end of last year the Icelandic Food Agency granted whitefish giant Samherji an increase on its operating permit for its land-based aquaculture operation in Grindavik, from the current 1,600 metric tons to nearly double, at 3,000 metric tons of salmon and char.

Samherji aims to grow these licenses up to 20,000 metric tons in the next 10 years, said Samherji Director of Fish Farming Jon Kjartan Jonsson.

Sea farming has been portrayed negatively in the media, Jonsson said, partly due to river-fishing being such a popular part of Icelandic culture. But there has been a positive response to land-based aquaculture in the country.

"If stakeholders communicate and work, solution-oriented together, I believe salmon fishing and farming can both be strong in Iceland," Jonsson said. "The general public is, however, very positive towards land-based sea farming," he said, adding that while there is space for this expansion, costs and access to warm water were both challenges.

At present, the land-based sector in Iceland is relatively small, with Samherji Fiskeldi the largest producer. The total harvest of the land-based sector is roughly 7,000 metric tons, Jonsson said, while traditional sea-cage farming totaled roughly 20,000 metric tons last year.