Fish farm threatens to wreak havoc as thousands of fish escape into natural waters: ‘An environmental catastrophe’

The escape of thousands of salmon from an open-pen fish farm has endangered the wild salmon population in Iceland. If the escaped fish breeds with the native species, it could irreparably damage future generations of the latter.

What’s happening?

On Aug. 20, approximately 3,500 farm-raised salmon escaped from an open-pen fish farm in Icelandic waters, per the Guardian. The farm is off the coast of Patreksfjörður, a village on Iceland’s northwest coast. Arctic Fish, an Icelandic fish-farming company owned by Norwegian seafood giant Mowi, operates the facility.

Unconfirmed social media posts have reported that the farm-raised salmon, identifiable by their rounded tails and torn fins, have been found in at least 32 rivers across northwest Iceland, per the Guardian.

Why is the salmon escape concerning?

According to scientists, many of the escapees have reached sexual maturity. This is bad news for Iceland’s wild salmon population, as interbreeding between them and farm-raised salmon results in offspring that reach sexual maturity much faster than their wild counterparts.

The accelerated rate of maturation makes it more challenging for the species to reproduce while increasing their boldness and aggression, making them more likely to die as juveniles.

The escaped fish have reached many Icelandic waterways, endangering much of Iceland’s wild salmon population.

“This is an environmental catastrophe,” Guðmundur Hauker Jakobsson, vice-chair of the Blanda and Svartá fishing club, told the Guardian. “If they breed, the salmon will lose their ability to survive.”

Aside from the threats posed by the fugitive fish, waste from open-pen fish farms pollutes surrounding waters, according to Living Oceans. Furthermore, diseases spread from fish farms can threaten wild fish populations, per Wild First.

One of the posts from the unverified social media reports even showed several fish carrying sea lice, which can be deadly to wild salmon.

What’s being done about the escaped salmon?

Environmentalists, hobby fishers, and politicians have once again begun to call for an end to open-pen fish farming in response to yet another incident of escaped fish in Iceland.

Last year, Icelandic fish farming company Arnarlax was fined the equivalent of around $800,000 for failing to report the escape of more than 81,000 fish in 2021, per the Fish Farmer.

And while Arctic Fish has enlisted the help of specialist divers to track down the farm-raised salmon, the companys CEO, Stein Ove Tveiten, and other board members will face up to two years in prison if they are found guilty of negligence, according to the Guardian.

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