Arnalax may have been the only producer to harvest salmon in the island nation last year. But, despite the fact that they harvested a relatively meagre 6,000 tonnes, they have big ambitions to increase this figure, as have a number of the country’s other fledgling salmon firms.
Speaking to The Fish Site in Brussels this week Vikingur Gunnarson, Senior Director of Arnalax, explained how the opportunities for the country’s salmon industry to evolve 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 year by year. We harvested 6,000 tonnes last year, forecast 10,000 tonnes for this year and hope to increase this to almost 15,000 by 2018.”
“When the capacity of other producers is added to this we see the country producing around 50,000 tonnes within 5 years,” he adds.
Investment in state-of-the-art equipment will help to facilitate this expansion. “We operate using the same technical standards used in Norway, which ensures we use the best equipment,” Vikingur adds.
Indeed, Arnalx has recently 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 stockpile large volumes on site.
Equipment, feed and technical standards are not the only things that are being imported from Norway, however – a number of Norwegian salmon producers have also invested in Icelandic firms recently. Indeed, Salmar snapped up about a quarter of the shares in Arnalax in late 2015, while Norway Royal Salmon acquired 50% of Arctic Fish, in a deal worth €29 million, last year. This led to the Icelandic firm's decision to switch its focus to salmon production.
Although Arctic Fish was originally established to produce rainbow trout and Arctic char they released their first batch of home-grown smolts to sea last summer summer – and they plan to consolidate this goal with the construction of a new RAS hatchery which will be capable of producing 7 million smolts a year.
Indeed, it is currently the need to increase smolt production that is proving the biggest obstacle to the country hitting the 50,000 tonne target.
"The real bottleneck is smolt production, we need to build up our smolt facilities to allow us to expand, says Kristian Matthiasson, CEO of Arnalax.
The good news is that conditions favour smolt production in Iceland, with many areas having access to geothermal power, and many having access to both salt and fresh water supplies too.
Arnalax currently operates two smolt plants - one near Reykjavik and the other near their main grwoing area in Westfjords - but are looking to upgrade these soon.
Demand for Icelandic salmon, being such a niche product, is currently high and Arnalax exports 60% of its produce to the US and the remaining 40% mainly to the EU, although there is a domestic market for it 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 great publicity for our brand.”