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Conservation of wild salmon

Anja Stang
Anja Stang
Stang has 25 years' experience as a journalist, editor, copywriter and communications consultant. See also


"Now they are on their way to making the same mistakes in Iceland as they have made in Norway. We have already seen terrible lice infestations and escapes", says Pål Mugaas. He is the communications manager for Norske Lakseelver, which consists of 123 management teams and works purposefully for the conservation of wild salmonn and a more environmentally and animal friendly breedingdiet.

“All the technology is out of date. It may have been okay in the 80s when fish farming started, but now it has far too great an environmental impact. As many as five areas in Norway are closed to further growth now. The West is the worst."

The salmon expert is very worried: "We had the worst fishing season ever in Norway last summer, and the scientists are crystal clear. There are two very clear threats: escaped farmed salmon, which is responsible for genetic modification of the wild salmon, and lice infestations which lead to mortality in emigrating young salmon. When they go to sea in the spring, they swim past the cages, and in some areas more than 50 percent of them die from salmon lice. Then there won't be as much salmon that can return to the rivers."

Several breeders, such as Eide Fjordbruk in Hardanger and Hofseth Aqua in Sunnmøre, are leaning forward and want to develop new systems, he says. “But the big crowd don't care – they're going to make money. MoWi is a worst case – they are only concerned with the bottom line in the next quarter," he says. Mowi, Salmar and Grieg are the largest Norwegian players, the former having a turnover of over NOK 15 billion in 3 months last year. "International industry will always flow to where the tax is cheapest and the regulations most flexible. This applies to all industries. The Icelanders have an opportunity to stop this at the start, by making very strict demands."

Caption: Pål Mugaas With a Great, New Stjørdalselvlaks of 8 kilos. These are the kind of fish all Norwegian salmon fishermen dream of
About the winter months. Photo: Private

In 2021 came Norwegian salmon rivers with an idea for sustainable growth that has been included in the Norwegian Fisheries Committee's NOU through what is called environmental flexibility: "Today, a license to farm salmon in Norway costs around NOK 250 million. If the companies switch to closed cages, they can get extra free licences. With a license that would have cost a quarter of a billion, which could rather be spent on technology development," explains Mugaas.

"150 percent growth is a good incentive. Then we can rather flog those who don't switch to closed cages – they can get a fee instead. That combination will be driving towards new technology. That's how the switch to electric cars in Norway has been achieved," he says.

Da The Aquaculture Committee delivered a public report (NOU) in September last year, the conversion proposal for Norske Lakseelver included: "It is a golden opportunity for the government to take this up, and all the seafood economists say that if this is implemented the rest will take care of itself. We need a green transition, and this will be an important part of that.”

According to Mugaas, a closed cage has a physical barrier between the fish and its surroundings. Water is pumped through and can be cleaned both in and out. The water can then be collected in deep water, below the salmon lice's natural habitat, which is on the surface. Sludge can also be filtered out of the water that leaves the cage. One closed sea will protect against the spread of disease between plants, and also protect farmed salmonone against pearl algae and algal blooms. This is becoming a big problem for the breeders as the water in the fjords is getting warmer due to climate changes. Mugaas sees no major problem with closed solutions. The price depends on the solution, but around 100 million. According to him, however, this will be considerably cheaper if industrial development can be created, and he hopes that environmental flexibility can contribute to this.

See also more information about the proposal for closed cages here:

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