The Faroe Islands rely heavily on fisheries and aquaculture activities. Fish and fish products make up almost 95% of the total export income and 20% of the total Faroese gross national product. Alongside wild capture fisheries, aquaculture has become an important Faroese industry, both economically and socially. Atlantic salmon dominates production, with some small production of seaweed.
With a technologically advanced aquaculture industry, the Faroes are currently regarded as leaders in many aspects of aquaculture production. Aquaculture legislation was reformed in 2003 to promote profitability and competitiveness within a sustainable framework with regard to animal and environmental health.
The Faroes ecoregion is the third ICES ecoregion to have an Aquaculture Overview published. Gunnvør á Norði, Fiskaaling (Aquaculture Research Station of the Faroes) and Unn Laksá, Sjókovin, both participated in the Workshop on the Faroes ecoregion Aquaculture Overview (WKFAROESAO) and drafting content for the overview.
“We are delighted that all aspects of Faroese aquaculture are now gathered in one place, covering legislation, farming practices, environmental issues, profitability and socio-economic aspects. Most of this information was not readily accessible to an international audience. Now others can easily obtain information about Faroese aquaculture, which is one of the best in class when it comes to biological performance and technological development.
The process of creating the Aquaculture Overview has been really valuable due to the multidisciplinary collaboration. The working group consisted of experts from the authorities, consultants within the aquaculture sector, and researchers within the biological, environmental, economic, and political science disciplines. It was a valuable experience to work on aquaculture issues from such a broad perspective."
Oceanic conditions Salmon farming conditions could be considered quite harsh in comparison to many other ICES ecoregions. “We have few fjords and the distance to the oceanic environment is quite small", says Gunnvør á Norði, “Farms are exposed to high waves and ocean swells". This exposure does provide some favourable conditions including a high seawater exchange and less pollution. “We also have a good water temperature to farm fish", continues á Norði, “without cold winters or warm summers, we have quite stable temperatures".
For at least a decade, the Faroes salmon production industry has been leading in the production of large smolt and reducing the time size at sea. Continuous investment in this technology has led to the situation where, compared with the average smolt size in other ICES ecoregions, the Faroe Islands smolt is much larger when transferred to sea.
In terms of biological performance, Faroese salmon production also leads with low mortality and high feed conversion rates.
Economically, aquaculture is an important industry in the Faroe Islands. Over the past decade, it has grown to represent 40–45% of total goods exported (8% of the gross national product). With 5% of the total labour force employed within aquaculture, the industry has a much stronger influence on society and the economy when compared to other ICES ecoregions. When experts gathered in Tórshavn for the Workshop on the Faroes ecoregion Aquaculture Overview (WKFAROESAO) at the end of May to review the collected data and information, a strong showing of economists, regulators, social scientists, industry scientists, etc. alongside the biologists reflected the industry's importance and ICES holistic approach to drafting aquaculture overviews.
“There are continuous synergies between the industry and regulators", says Unn Laksá, Sjókovin, “when the new 2003 reform was developed, it was a very close collaboration between the industry and the authorities. The adaptation of the regulation came from specific needs within the industry and intense deliberations on how to develop the industry together".
Salmon production has remained profitable due to the absence of major diseases and a concurrently growing international market demand. Faroes salmon has for a number of years fetched premium market prices globally.
Sea lice is considered the single largest concern for salmon production in the Faroes ecoregion but has also been the main driver of investments, innovations in farming practices and production technologies, and aquaculture regulations. “Sea lice regulation always receives a lot of attention", notes á Norði, “but it is part of good management practices, if you don't have good sea lice management, you simply cannot expand the production".
Sustainable aquaculture growth requires innovative production technologies to reduce environmental impacts. In the Faroes, this thinking includes the diversification of existing culture systems in response to changing environmental or biological drivers. Blue mussel production is being considered, alongside the expansion of seaweed cultivation and the development of offshore aquaculture.
The overview states that, "Future developments will need to consider and apply an integrated approach to assess synergies and trade-offs among sectors, including commercial fisheries, shipping, tourism, and potentially also offshore renewable energy developments while investigating consequences across environmental, ecological, and socio-economic dimensions. Future aquaculture development should also consider the impacts of climate change".
The Faroes ecoregion is the third ICES ecoregion to have an Aquaculture Overview published. It is available now to read and download. The accompanying science report from the Workshop on the Faroes Ecoregion Aquaculture Overview (WKFaroesAO) can also be found in ICES library.
ICES work on aquaculture is part of a wider portfolio of work that seeks to advance and share a scientific understanding of marine ecosystems and the services they provide—and to use this knowledge to generate state-of-the-art advice for meeting conservation, management, and sustainability goals.
Drangarnir, Faroe Islands.
ICES Aquaculture Overviews present the interactions of the environmental, economic, and social drivers of aquaculture in an ecoregion as well as future projections and emerging threats and opportunities.
In 2019, ICES asked
many international and national stakeholders directly via
an extensive online survey what areas they would like addressed in an
aquaculture overview. The survey was carried out in 2019-2020
and included responses from industry, academic researchers, and NGOs. Overwhelmingly,
the stakeholders requested climate change and socioeconomics
The resulting Aquaculture Overviews set the
social and economic context for aquaculture in the ecoregion describing
the key drivers of aquaculture development and whether these drivers
negatively or positively impact the nature as well as the extent of
aquaculture development in the region over time, for example, local food
supplies and income/job creation vs international market demands and
competition. How will climate change impact the future of aquaculture in terms of opportunities or challenges? What information is there on coastal communities that are affected by aquaculture?
Aquaculture is a high-priority topic for ICES and our work on aquaculture is part of a wider portfolio of work that seeks to advance and share a scientific understanding of marine ecosystems and the services they provide—and to use this knowledge to generate state-of-the-art advice for meeting conservation, management, and sustainability goals.