Fish farming could make a lot of money, but might not be worth the environmental risks

Fears of sea lice and oxygen dead zones spur resistance to the government's fish farming strategy

Fish farming could easily become a lucrative industry for Denmark, which has plenty of sea and coastline to raise pens of trout and salmon.

But government plans to promote the industry are receiving pushback from the opposition as well as from environmental and recreational fishing groups that warn of impacts on oxygen levels and wild stocks of fish.

The government is investing around 3.5 million kroner in the search for suitable locations for fish farming in the Kattegat, between Jutland and Sweden, with the aim of creating an industry that produces 160,000 tons of fish a year.

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Fish farms produce waste in the form of phosphorus and nitrogen, which promote the growth of algae that, in turn, consume oxygen. Given that the Kattegat is already susceptible to oxygen shortages, the government has proposed pollution compensation schemes, such as the farming of mussels and seaweed that can consume excess phosphorus and nitrogen from the fish farms.

Not everyone is convinced by the project, however, including MP Maria Reumert Gjerding of the Red-Green Alliance.

“An experiment of this character should be restricted to a research level until there is enough evidence of this fantastic effect, instead of heading out into the real world and finding out ‘oh actually it doesn’t’,” she told Politiken newspaper.

Recreational fishing organisation Danmarks Sportsfiskerforbund and the Danish Society for Nature Conservation (DN) are also critical of the pollution compensation measures. They point out that the law would not require the mussel or seaweed farms to be established in close proximity to the fish farms, but only in the general region, resulting in localised pollution.

“Neither mussels nor seaweed can compensate for the pollution that the new fish farms would produce, which means it is not a viable option,” stated Verner W. Hansen, chairman of Danmarks Sportsfiskerforbund.

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He adds that fish farming is associated with the growth of parasites, such as sea lice, which can transfer to wild stocks of fish – a problem that has severely affected wild fish in Norway, Scotland, Ireland and the Faroe Islands.

Ivan Bundgård Sørensen, chairman of the aquaculture lobby group Dansk Akvakultur, is not impressed by the pushback from opposition parties, which also includes the Social Liberal Party (Radikale), Socialist People’s Party (SF) and the Alternative (Alternativet).

“They have issued an automatic reaction to the proposed law even though it affords the option of farming at sea without producing extra pollution. They also completely ignore the potential jobs in Denmark’s rural areas that would be associated with extra business activity,” he wrote to Dansk Akvakultur’s mailing list. M


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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