Environmentalists, politicians, and others are calling for a restriction or ban on factory fish farming after thousands of salmon escaped an open-air pen in Iceland.
The great escape occurred late last month at a farm in Patreksfjörður owned by Arctic Fish—one of the largest salmon-farming companies in Iceland. Thousands of salmon managed to free themselves from a pen and have already been found in at least 32 rivers across the country.
This escape could have devastating consequences: Interbreeding between farmed and wild salmon undermines the species’ ability to reproduce in nature, which endangers the local ecosystem as well. There have also been unconfirmed social media posts showing salmon covered in sea lice—a parasite that plagues fish farms and is deadly to wild fish. Jón Kaldal of Icelandic Wildlife Fund stated:
This is more than a wake-up call. All red lights should be blinking. You’re talking about the future of wild salmon.
This isn’t even Iceland’s first farmed fish escape. In 2021, over 80,000 salmon escaped from fish-farming company Arnarlax. The company was later fined over £705,000 for not reporting the escape.
Factory Fish Farms
In Icelandic fish farms, each pen can hold between 100,000 and 120,000 fish—more than double Iceland’s entire wild salmon population—and each salmon farming site holds around 10 pens. The number of fish raised in these farms is truly staggering.
Beyond the risk of escaped salmon and sea lice, these humongous farms can pollute the surrounding environment with organic waste and pesticides. In fact, according to the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority, a medium-size fish farm can produce as much liquid waste (or sewage) as a city of 50,000 people! This waste can lead to algae blooms that can devastate the surrounding ecosystem.
Fish farms are horrific for the animals forced to live in them. In 2020, Mercy For Animals released an investigation into a U.S. fish farm that revealed thousands of fish raised in stressful, overcrowded pens with poor water quality. Our footage shows factory-farmed fish cut in half, shocked with electricity, and left to suffocate.
Mercy For Animals also recently released a new documentary featuring expert testimonials that shows how fish suffer in factory farms. In the documentary, Dr. Marco Vindas of the Norwegian University of Life Science explains:
Salmon are supposed to be in creeks and rivers and oceans, and you put them in a pen, where you have about 300,000 to 400,000 individuals. A certain amount of the population stops eating. They usually go to the sides of the sea cages, close to the water’s surface. They swim in small circles, sometimes hitting the side of the cage. They don’t really react that much to whatever’s happening. This is a type of depression-like state.
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