Arnalax was the only producer to harvest salmon in the island nation last year. Despite the fact that the company produced only 6,000 tonnes in 2016, they have big ambitions to increase this figure, while a number of the country’s other fledgling salmon firms have also announced plans to expand.
Speaking to The Fish Site in Brussels this week Vikingur Gunnarson, Senior Director of Arnalax, explained how the growth opportunities for the country’s salmon industry have emerged.
“The average sea temperature has increased by a few degrees over recent years, making it more suitable for on-growing salmon at sea,” he explained, “and the improvements in the equipment available mean that it’s possible to safely upscale production in relatively exposed sites. As a result, we aim to increase our production – we harvested 6,000 tonnes last year, have 10,000 tonnes forecast for this year, and hope to increase this to almost 15,000 by 2018.”
According to Vikingur, the Icelandic government will only issue salmon farming licences for three specific areas – the Westfjords, one large fjord on the north of the island and an area off the country’s east coast.
“When the capacity of other [emerging] producers is added it is likely that the country will be producing around 50,000 tonnes from these three areas within 5 years,” he reflected.
Investment in state-of-the-art equipment should help to facilitate this expansion, the company believes. “We operate using the same technical standards used in Norway, which ensures we use the best equipment,” Vikingur added.
Indeed, Arnalax has now bought three Akva feed barges, the most recent of which has a 650-tonne capacity – feed needs to be transported from Norway or the Faroes, so it makes sense to be able to store such large quantities onsite.
Equipment, technical standards and feeds are not the only things that are being brought in from Norway, however, and a number of Norwegian salmon producers have also invested in Iceland. Indeed, Salmar acquired a stake in Arnalax in late 2015 while, more recently, Norway Royal Salmon acquired 50% of Arctic Fish, which tied in with the latter's decision to switch its focus from trout to salmon production. Arctic Fish released their first batch of home-grown smolts to sea last summer and have plans to construct a RAS hatchery which will be capable of producing 7 million smolts a year by the time it’s completed.
It is currently the need to increase smolt production that is proving the biggest obstacle to growth in Iceland, according to the CEO of Arnalax, Kristian Matthiasson.
“The biggest bottleneck to growth is smolt production,” he explained to The Fish Site, “which needs to be built up substantially.”
While this might take time, the conditions for land-based production are highly favourable in Iceland, with many locations benefitting from geothermal energy to help power RAS facilities as well as access to both fresh and salt water supplies.
“We currently have two smolt production facilities – one near our site in the Westfjords area and the other near Reykjavik – but we need to invest in new smolt farms to achieve our ambitions to keep growing,” he said.
Demand for Icelandic salmon, being such a niche product, is currently high and Arnalax exports 60% of its produce to the US, while the remaining 40% goes mainly to the EU, although there is a market for it in Iceland too.
“Jamie Oliver is about to open a restaurant in Reykjavik in the next few weeks,” says Kristian, “and he has chosen to include Arnalax salmon on the menu, which is very good for the brand.”