As with the rest of our markets, the fishing industry works on a supply and demand basis – while there is money to be made from fish farming it will continue. That said, there are more than two ways to gut a fish. Where open net farms pose a serious threat to wild salmon, land-based fish farming offers a safer alternative. It is through this method that Iceland has the opportunity to set a precedent at this pivotal moment in its aquacultural history. It’s not quite how it sounds, there aren’t four-legged salmon happily grazing in pens on Iceland’s rolling green fields. Instead, the fish swim in pools which can only really be likened to sewage cleaning tanks: round with the water moving in a circular current. Unlike in open net pens where the salmon often don’t have a current to swim against, here they can swim against the flow of the water, resulting in larger, fitter fish.
As they’re on land, it's much easier to manage their waste, keep them healthy, and there is no chance of them entering the local ecosystem. The process is more expensive than just casting a net in the sea, but Iceland is better equipped than most land masses to support such a system. There is abundant, unpopulated coastline providing the necessary space and water required, including enough space for water filtration to reuse the water in the tanks as opposed to drawing more and generating waste water.
Unlike other wildlife campaigns which can quickly suffer from donor fatigue, the problem with fish is that – aside from vegans – no one has ever cared a great deal for them. They’re not fluffy or cute, they don’t cry out in pain, and crucially they’re not on land. It’s hard to relate to fish or experience their suffering when you can’t see them. Animal welfare campaigners aren’t diving fish farms on a regular basis and even if they were, you wouldn’t find negligent farmers kicking salmon or moving them along with cattle prods. Another problem is how commonly salmon appears in diets across the world. You could say the same about chicken, yet without farming, these flightless, defenceless birds wouldn’t exist; Salmon are epic, wild creatures. They live in the river where they were spawned for a year or two, then head out into the ocean (for as long as eight years in the case of the American Chinook) before returning to their home river, leaping upstream to mate.
The underlying issue here is that salmon are being viewed purely as a commodity as opposed to a species in peril. If the Norwegian salmon farming giants are allowed to go on operating as they do, it won’t be a case of withdrawing licenses for a bit and waiting for native stocks to replenish. There won’t be any pure native stocks, end of.
There are no tankfuls of salmon native to each country being stored in vast conservation centres, ready to be released should the worst case scenario occur, because that’s simply not possible. There’s no denying that salmon farming creates jobs – often in places where they are much needed – and brings in a lot of money, but land-based farms will also create jobs and turn a profit. So here’s hoping that the Icelandic government can see the long game rather than opting for the quick buck, and learn from Scotland, US and chiefly, Norway’s failings. What is lost, is lost forever and surely we’ve lost enough as it is.