Making Aquaculture More TransparentThe Laxar aquaculture site in Reyðarfjörður in Iceland’s Eastfjords. Photo: MAST

By launching its first ever online dashboard, Iceland is shining a light on its fish farming sector and taking new steps to share as much information as possible.

Unveiled by Fisheries Minister Kristján Thór Júlíusson, hopes are high that Iceland’s new online dashboard will play a key role in enabling information on the country’s aquaculture – at sea and on land – to be accessible to the public and the government. The dashboard will highlight everything connected with aquaculture including company locations, data on offshore and land-based production, information on biomass, disease and deaths, sea lice numbers, risk factors and the number of farms that have been issued with operating licenses.

“In 2020, the government decided on the need to officially release detailed information on Iceland’s aquaculture,” said Karl Steinar Óskarsson, Officer in Aquaculture at Matvælastofnun (MAST), the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority.

“The background to this lies with Norway, which has a very detailed dashboard system already, along with Scotland and the Faroe Islands. The main goal of the new dashboard is to put all information on the table. For example, we tend to have a lot of interest from the media on things such as how many licenses have been issued or how much fish is produced. The dashboard takes away a lot of the pressure that we have in answering such queries and enables people to access the information themselves.”

By law, each month fish farms in Iceland are obliged to share information from their production base with MAST, including the number of fish that are produced, the number of fish that have died or been slaughtered and the average number of lice on each fish. This enables MAST to monitor what is happening on each farm and now, it will form part of the new dashboard. The number of deaths is shown as a percentage along with the number of fish in each offshore cage. Because MAST’s main focus is the issuing of licenses and monitoring of fish farming systems, in particular escapees, information on the type of feed that is used on a farm as well as processing and harvesting methods is currently unavailable. The dashboard began this spring and is still in the trial-and-error stage.

Staying informed

Iceland has a highly vocal sports fishing lobby, which is strongly opposed to fish farming and claims that the industry is a threat to wild salmon stocks. In this sense, and because local interest in aquaculture is relatively high, Karl Steinar Óskarsson says that there is a duty to keep people informed of what is going on. Doing so may also help to alleviate some of the opposition towards aquaculture, he says.

“So far we haven’t had any reaction to the dashboard from those who are opposed to aquaculture,” he said.

“But what they want is to promote land-based aquaculture and that information is available to them if they want it. Compared to other countries, the scale of Iceland’s aquaculture is very small although it is growing a lot and fast. Luckily there haven’t been any great issues such as big escapes, lice epidemics or serious diseases. The dashboard is quite good if you want an overview of what is happening in Iceland in terms of biomass, production, and deaths, so we hope that making this information available may give those who are opposed to aquaculture a better picture of the industry.”

Land-based aquaculture facilities have long been drawing attention around the world as a more sustainable alternative than open water fish farms, and in Iceland, efforts are underway to establish more such operations. Thanks to its mix of climatic and geological conditions, the country is also particularly well suited to land-based fish farming, and applications for land-based farms have been rising, he said.

With this trend likely to continue, information on the land-based sector will become a key part of the dashboard.

Fish farmers know that aquaculture is one of the most efficient ways of producing protein and that salmon farming is one solution to the world’s food challenges. With consumers keen to make informed choices on what they buy and who from, and wanting further information on seafood production, offering greater visibility into salmon farming is a significant challenge for Iceland’s aquaculture. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity for better conversations with stakeholders, local communities and more positive, solution-focused outcomes.

“Being transparent is a really great tool for communication, and I think it’s extremely important to keep information visible for everybody,” Kalr Steinar Óskarsson commented.

Real data

“That is what we are trying to do with the dashboard. Conversations can also be based on real data as opposed to a perceived understanding of what is going on. This is extremely useful and allows us to have much more practical, open talks.”

While transparency and traceability are developing fast in the broader seafood and fish farming sector, Iceland’s dashboard is only just beginning. In addition to the information it already contains, he hopes to see more data on what aquaculture is doing for local communities, how it might be affecting other industries such as housing and house prices, how many jobs it’s creating, the value of the fish it produces compared to other types of fish and how it’s making money for the people. Bringing all this information, which is currently scattered across many institutions, into the dashboard will enable users to see the whole picture beyond aquaculture.

“Going forward, our focus is on land-based aquaculture and we plan to put all information on it into the dashboard,” Karl Steinar Óskarsson said.

“We are currently deciding exactly what we are going to share, for example the production of smolts or the production of fish as food. We want to get a better overview of the land-based business, and after that we will be tweaking the information, working out what we can fix, what can be done better and what to add next. I hope we can develop the dashboard even more so it provides a whole picture of the industry and how aquaculture is progressing in Iceland. Hopefully we will also be able to translate everything into English in the future.”

“I believe that in five years from now, the dashboard will be even better,” he continued. “Aquaculture is an extremely important business for the Icelandic economy. It is still a very young industry but it’s already generating a lot of income for the country. It will be really interesting to see how much will be produced and how the industry will progress in the future. The global population will always need fish and if we want more fish, we will need aquaculture so the dashboard is going to be really important in reassuring the public of the standard of aquaculture here in Iceland.”

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