Scandals in salmon farming: dead fish as premium salmon

Scandals in salmon farming: dead fish as premium salmon

Salmon farming is a goldmine, especially when less consideration is given to animal welfare. But the industry is now losing customers

Fish farm in Iceland Photo: Paul Mayall/picture alliance

taz | STOCKHOLM “These are outrageous numbers and this is really an enormous tragedy,” says Ingólfur Ásgeirsson from the Icelandic nature conservation organization Icelandic Wildlife Fund: “We have never seen such animal cruelty here before.” He is not the only one who is outraged. Thousands of Icelanders recently demonstrated in front of Parliament in Reykjavík to express their displeasure at what factory farming in salmon breeding cages off the coast of their country actually looks like, in contrast to the idyllic images that advertising suggests.

In the breeding facilities of the Norwegian companies Mowi and Salmar, around a million farmed salmon have been infected with salmon louse in the past few weeks. An eight to twelve millimeter long parasite that lives on the skin and blood of salmon. In the breeding cages in which the animals are crammed together, the parasite spreads quickly and practically eats the salmon alive.

In Tálknafjörður in western Iceland, an average of 96 salmon lice per animal were counted in the cages of Arctic Fisk, which belongs to Mowi, the world’s largest salmon producer, and 62.5 in those of Arnarlax, which belongs to the Norwegian Salmar, the investigative magazine was able to do Heimildin report on Friday the week before last.

The salmon lice have mutated

“It really can’t get any worse,” explained Berglind Helga Bergsdóttir, fish specialist at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority MAST: People were surprised at how quickly the salmon louse had spread. After treatment with a control agent, the infestation even increased. A mutation may have occurred.

It was originally assumed in Iceland that this parasite would not become a problem in the cold water of the fjords there. The licensing authority had therefore not issued any specific regulations as to what measures should be taken in such a case. However, Iceland’s National Audit Office criticized the lack of regulation and control in salmon farming at the beginning of the year.

At the same time, the turnover of the Icelandic aquaculture industry has grown around forty-fold over the last ten years. Current production is around 50,000 tonnes annually, and licenses have already been issued for production of almost 100,000 tonnes.

Compared to Norway, where 1.4 million tons were produced last year, this is relatively little, but for the Norwegian companies that are active on the North Atlantic island and have set up subsidiaries there, marketing under the label “Salmon from Iceland” is apparently attractive – or at least it has been so far.

In Norway, one in four salmon dies before being slaughtered

Because of the ever-increasing horror reports about the treatment of the animals, farmed salmon from Norway has no longer had a good reputation among a growing number of consumers for some time. Animal welfare is so disregarded that, according to official figures, on average over the last five years one in six – in some facilities one in four – salmon died before being slaughtered. In 2022 there were 58 million salmon, including the hatcheries, 92.3 million salmon.

Just last week, Norwegian television NRK reported, citing internal “Mattilsynet” papers, that tens of thousands of kilos of dead salmon meat from another plant were actually exported as “premium salmon”. The Norwegian state consumer organization Forbrukerrådet is now calling for some kind of health certificate.

But the industry organization Sjømat Norge argues that such information is of no importance for consumers, since the consumption of this product does not pose a risk of infection for people.

Some restaurants in Iceland and Norway have taken Norwegian farmed salmon off the menu entirely, reports High North News and says: If the industry had to defend itself by saying that eating sick animals is not harmful to health, this would be an indictment.


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