Iceland’s premier steps into fish farm row

ICELAND’S fisheries minister is to submit a bill to the country’s parliament today amending the Aquaculture Act to ensure that the two companies who have lost their licences to expand salmon farming in the Westfjords can temporarily continue their operations.
The minister, Fiskeldi Kristján Þór Júlíusson, says he wants to be able to grant provisional licences for up to ten months.
It is the latest development in a saga which became a national issue and has seen Iceland’s prime minister, Katrina Jakobsdóttir, step into the debate.
Both Arnarlax, backed by SalMar, and Arctic Fish Farm, half owned by Norway Royal Salmon, were taken aback last week when an Environmental and Natural Resources Complaints committee unexpectedly ruled that an earlier decision by the country’s Food Authority to grant them licences to produce up to 17,500 tonnes of salmon in the Westfjord coastal ports of Patreksfjordur and Talknafjordur should not be allowed to go ahead.
The committee maintained that a proper impact assessment had not been carried out, following objections from Iceland’s highly vocal environmental and fishing rights groups.
A meeting was held yesterday between the Icelandic Food Administration, the Environment Agency, the Planning Agency and the two salmon companies on how to correct the concerns raised by the Natural Resources Complaints committee.
The two companies still retain older licences for smaller expansion plans and it was suggested these were still valid and could be adapted.
Premier Jakobsdóttir said at the weekend that two government departments were working on ways to provide the affected farming companies with a ‘fair deadline’ to overcome any deficiencies in their original applications.
The tiny fishing ports reacted angrily over the decision against the salmon farmers, arguing that it would hit them hard economically, with the row now grabbing the attention of Iceland’s national broadcast and print media.
The two developments are expected to create more than 150 jobs, a high figure in towns where the populations number less than 2,000 inhabitants.
Rebekka Hilmarsdóttir, mayor of Vesturbyggð, one of the nearby communities which would have benefited from the development, described the committee’s ruling as a major blow to the area.
‘Yes, this was a big surprise,’ she said. ‘This is a huge shock to this area. It will have a huge impact on the whole community here.
‘It directly affects over 150 jobs and, consequently, the many families and many individuals who live here.’
Premier Jakobsdóttir posted on social media on Sunday that the local mayors met various government bodies at the weekend, who argued that the companies had done everything correctly and launched their plans in good faith.
They also warned about the impact on their communities and the economic challenges facing the Westfjords region in general.
She said: ‘We informed them (the coastal communities) that the Minister of Fisheries and the Minister for the Environment are examining ways to ensure proportionality in this matter, so that companies can be allowed a reasonable time limit to address the deficiencies that arose from the appeal process.
‘It is my hope that a successful solution will be found in this case as soon as possible.’

Picture: Katrina Jakobsdóttir, Icelandic prime minister

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