Aquaculture A Threat To Indigenous Peoples

Original title: “Oppdrettsnæring trussel mot urfolk,” NRK Sápmi, 13 October 2011, By Åse Pulk and Johannes E. Kalvemo. Translated by Dorothee Schreiber.


-Salmon aquaculture in its present form represents a big threat to indigenous livelihoods, says researcher Steinar Pedersen. 

Last week associate professor Steinar Pedersen (Sami University College) took part in an international conference on salmon, which was held in Munich, Germany.  

At this conference, the focus was on salmon aquaculture in relation to indigenous peoples.  The possible consequences of salmon aquaculture were discussed.

 -Aquaculture a big threat

Pedersen says that at the conference it became clear that in certain situations, indigenous communities in Canada have negotiated with aquaculture companies and as a result have gained some concessions, such as employment, from the companies.

 -But there was quite a common opinion [at the conference] that salmon aquaculture in its current form represents a large threat to indigenous  livelihoods.  This is because of the spread of sea lice, the escape of farmed salmon, the transfer of other diseases to the wild salmon, and influence of the environment. 

-How critical is the situation for wild salmon in indigenous territories? 

-If we take as a starting point the report from the Scientific Board for Salmon Management in Norway, one can see what are the biggest threats to wild salmon.  Two of the six factors are the spread of sea lice and the escape of farmed salmon.  According to the Scientific Board, 255,000 salmon were registered as escaped in 2010.  That says a bit about the scale of the events that take place. 

-Must establish closed containment

Pedersen says that with the increase we have seen in the volume of fish being farmed, an increasing number of people are calling for closed containment if the industry is to remain sustainable.  In that way the aquaculture fish would not come into contact with wild fish or the natural environment.

 -Closed containment would provide the best insurance against negative impacts of salmon farming operations on wild salmon, the environment, or other fish, says Pedersen. 

-What is the solution in Finnmark? 

-The solution is basically the same in Finnmark.  In the long term, and to avoid infection of wild salmon stocks, sea trout, and other fish, it is important to use measures other than the ones we currently use to contain the spread of sea lice, for example.  We even see sea lice thriving in Finnmark now.  I have seen that this autumn the salmon aquaculture industry launched an advertising campaign saying that sea lice don’t thrive in Finnmark, but recent research results show that there has been a strong increase in sea lice in Finnmark this autumn. 

Record-high lice numbers

Never before have so many sea lice been counted on salmon farm sites in Finnmark as this year. 

When the Food Safety Authority conducted an inspection of the Grieg Seafoods site in Steinviknes in the municipality of Loppa, it found that the presence of sea lice was five times higher than permitted.  In one of the cages there were so many lice that the Food Safety Authority had a hard time counting them all.  Several fish were so damaged by sea lice that they had to be euthanized. 

 Administrative director Håkon Volden of Grieg Seafoods says that they have now cleaned up and that they have control over the sea lice situation at all of their sites. 

-It is clear that compared to the standards we have in the industry, it is unlucky to have such a large outbreak with so little warning.   At the same time, we now have complete control.  We have very good control routines, and very good emergency procedures, says Volden. 

-The authorities asked for this

The head of the Norwegian Salmon Rivers’ Assocation believes that by allowing more aquaculture in the north, the authorities themselves have permitted an explosion of sea lice in Finnmark. 

Since 2005, the authorities have permitted nearly a doubling of the number of salmon aquaculture sites in the county, and several people fear that there is a connection between higher production levels and a rise in the occurrence of sea lice. 

Sterud says that the authorities can thank themselves for the explosion in sea lice, because both the fisheries minister and the authorities knew the risk of increasing the volume of aquaculture production. 


 The leader of the sea fishermens’ association in the Tana region, Bjarne Johansen, also took part in the fish farming conference in Munich.  He is frightened by the news about the sea lice in the salmon aquaculture site in Loppa. 

-We observe this development with fear and horror. We had actually feared it for quite a while.  Now that which we have discussed for several years has actually taken place.  That is scary. 

-What must be done? 

-The development of the industry must be completely stopped in northern Norway.  If it continues, it must be based on land or in closed containment. 

-Don’t you think that this industry has the right to exist? 

-Yes, definitely.  The new farms that have come in show that it is not so much more expensive to operate them. 

-What consequences will the sea lice have?

-When the coast is full of sea lice, they transfer to the smolts, and the juvenile salmon that are on their way to the ocean to grow, end up dying.  That is in a way the end of that population of salmon, says Johansen.


Follow-up meeting next year

At the conference in Munich it was decided that there would be a follow-up conference next year about salmon farming and indigenous peoples.  In connection with this proposal, Tana was named as a possible location for such a meeting.

 -If the meeting is held in Norway, Tana would be a natural place for it, because Tana has some of the strongest Atlantic salmon stocks in the whole world, because fishing there takes place both in the sea and the river, and because it is an important Sami territory, says Steinar Pedersen.