November 9, 2023


Salmon farms in Iceland face welfare crisis amid sea lice outbreak



Images of severely diseased and dying salmon at an Icelandic fish farm have surfaced, revealing what a veterinary expert describes as an "animal welfare disaster" of unprecedented magnitude, The Guardian reported.


The drone footage captured over an open-pen sea cage in Iceland's remote Westfjords region exposes a severe infestation of sea lice, prompting the premature slaughter of a significant number of fish.


The affected fish, suffering from a crustacean parasite known as salmon lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis), display open sores caused by the lice feeding on their skin. This infestation, as seen in the footage, has led to a mass culling operation facilitated by a specialised vessel, the Hordafor III, sent from Norway.


Berglind Helga Bergsdóttir, a specialist in fish diseases at MAST, the Icelandic food and veterinary authority, said that such an extensive lice infestation has never been witnessed in Iceland before. The wounds inflicted by the lice are exacerbated by bacteria, resulting in deeper and larger sores.


This incident comes at a challenging time for Iceland's open-pen salmon-farming industry, marked by recent escapes and environmental concerns. In August, the escape of 3,500 salmon from a farm owned by Arctic Fish, one of the companies with pens in the current lice outbreak site, triggered public outrage and a subsequent investigation.


Arctic Fish, owned by the world's largest salmon producer, Mowi, is now faced with the urgent need to euthanise a considerable number of fish due to the escalating sea lice problem. Mast, the Icelandic food and veterinary authority, stressed that the decision to cull the affected salmon was made by the companies, and these fish would not be suitable for human consumption.


The incident is under investigation by MAST, exploring the cause of the outbreak, which intensified after insecticide treatment proved ineffective against the lice. The agency is considering the possibility of lice mutation as a contributing factor to the crisis.


Both Arctic Fish and Arnarlax, the companies involved, acknowledged the sea-lice pressure and highlighted the need for more efficient frameworks to address such crises without compromising fish welfare.


-      The Guardian