We took a trip out into Skutulsfjörður with Davíð Kjartansson, one of the owners of Álfsfell, and his son Kjartan, to watch as they fed fish in a few of the pens in which they raise them in the fjord. Not an uncommon practice throughout Iceland these days, this sea-farming of fish for harvest has addressed several key issues in fisheries management. On the one hand, they provide a kind of supplement to the amount of fish that are taken from the sea each year, which is particularly important during years when the wild stock is determined to be low and the quota for line and trawler fishing is reduced.
Additionally, this kind of fish harvest provides for a form of sustainable fisheries management. Álfsfell raises fish from two sources: small fish that are caught wild in special nets which are fed and raised to a size and age when they are ready to market; and fingerlings which are obtained from a hatchery in Ísafjarðardjúp, and which are also raised until ready. The prior take about 9 to 10 months of feeding and care until they are ready to bring in; the latter about three years. This method of harvesting the sea helps to relieve the stress placed on wild stocks through other commercial practices.
To the end of sustainability, the feed for the fish is quite varied. Part of the feed consists of afbeita, bait that is left over from long line fishing; when the fish are caught on the hooks they often do not eat all of the bait, so it is reused here. The fish are also fed sild (sardines) and loðna (Gulldepla) both of which are caught for the purpose. All of these fish are frozen into large blocks (which look almost like heavy floor tiles) and these are placed whole into a food net in the pens. The smaller fish are fed a feed of processed pellets.
Today we watched as they fed one pen of large fish, about a dozen large plastic marine containers filled with frozen blocks, and two of the smaller fish. When the food is placed in the water, the fish circle around it feeding near the surface. During the summer, the fish are fed about three times a week; once a week during the winter, as their metabolism slows and they need less food.
Beginning in 2002, Davíð and his brother Hallgrímur started raising fish in the fjord. Today they have 11 nets, which contain a total of about 200 tons of fish. Each of the nets serves different purposes. One, for instance, contains fish that are ready to harvest that will be used when there is need on short notice. Another, one of the ones we visited, contains large fish that are near harvest; this pen, in fact, contains 60 tons of fish. Others contain smaller fish of different ages and sizes. All are cod (Icelandic þorskur), which is identifiable by a white strip down the side of their bodies.
The fish that Álfsfell harvests from Skutulsfjörður are either taken ashore and processed locally, or they are sold on the market to be processed at other plants in Iceland. At times when the weather is bad for long periods and the boats can´t go out, they can provided fish to the local market to keep the plants operating.