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Visiting Arctic Char Farms in Iceland

By Carrie Brownstein, January 8, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Carrie Brownstein
In developing the newly enhanced Seafood Quality Standards for farmed seafood at Whole Foods Market, I had the amazing opportunity to visit farms in remote locations around the world to learn about the wide range of aquaculture practices used to raise farmed seafood. I’m often asked, “What’s the most amazing place that you’ve visited?” While every country and the people that I’ve met have been incredibly different and interesting, I often answer, “Iceland.” Located just below the Arctic Circle, between Europe and Greenland, Iceland is an island nation with a landmass slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Kentucky. But with a population of just over 320,000—and most of these people living in the capital city of Reykjavík—Iceland is remarkably, well, un-crowded. Over half of the landmass of the island is tundra, lakes, and glaciers, but even in the more inhabited coastal areas that we visited, the vastness of the landscape is striking. Geologically active, Iceland’s volcanic eruptions have left behind stretches of old lava fields. In addition, because there are very few trees, the feeling of the place is that it’s not so much a landscape, but a moonscape surrounded by a seascape. With the vastness of the ocean itself outlining the land and shimmering fjords and waterfalls dazzling inland, the presence of water is everywhere. It’s within this unique environment that our Icelandic supplier partners, Samherji, raise Arctic Char. Native to Iceland and the polar regions of North America and Europe, Arctic char are closely related to both salmon and trout. Samherji’s fish farmers raise char in land-based tank systems, which offer a host of benefits. For one, the chance of fish escaping from a land-based tank system situated on land is greatly reduced. With aquaculture in general, escapes of farmed fish can be worrisome as they carry a suite of potential risks including spreading diseases or parasites to wild fish populations, competing for food or habitat with wild fish, or weakening of the genetic integrity of the wild fish if the farmed and wild fish interbreed. In addition, land-based tank systems allow farmers more control over water quality at the farm, which helps optimize conditions for the char. Furthermore, with land-based systems, farmers can reduce the environmental impacts of the farm because they can control the effluent—the water and wastes that leave the farm. In contrast to farms located in open water, in these land-based tank systems, farmers can filter the waste water to prevent nutrients from entering the marine environment and causing harmful algae blooms or other problems. Samherji’s farmers use filters and settling ponds to separate particles and treat effluent. The Whole Foods Market Quality Standards for farmed finfish and shrimp are comprehensive, requiring that farmers meet an extensive list of requirements to protect the environment. By locating their Arctic char farms on land and in tanks, Samherji is able to more easily address a number of our standards, including and not limited to escape prevention. Oh, and I forgot to tell you—their arctic char tastes great! Definitely a testament to all the care, not only for the environment, but for their fish, as well.
Category: Seafood




ladyshark66 says ...
Amazing shots!!!
01/09/2009 6:15:10 AM CST
Erick B says ...
Brrr...beautiful and cold. Keep leading the way...!
01/12/2009 12:21:22 PM CST
Judy Buzby says ...
Beautiful shots and story. Whole Foods is the only place I will purchase farmed fish. Arctic Char is our favorite fish, and we had a delicious dinner of it last evening. Thanks for the information.
03/19/2009 7:44:06 AM CDT
Josh says ...
Beautiful pictures and informative story, but after reading that the farm raised fish pose a threat to wild fish because of the risk of disease, it made me wonder if the farm raised fish diseases pose any kind of threat to the health of humans as well?
04/02/2009 3:13:06 PM CDT
Elizabeth B. says ...
I am hearing the same message in my local Whole Foods store about high standards for farmed seafood. The farming methods sound sustainable and environmentally responsible, however I still would not consider buying farmed fish without knowing what they are given as feed. Could you comment on that? Thanks!
05/29/2009 3:02:15 PM CDT
Earle says ...
Air shipping fresh fish long distances is a bad thing to promote. All the gases emitted from planes goes up and is therefore the worst kind of emissions. Air freighted food is not a good thing if we truly care!!
12/01/2009 8:55:06 AM CST
mich says ...
Hello, Do you know if wholefoods plans on selling Arctic Char again?
02/11/2011 8:09:30 PM CST
Barry says ...
What do they feed these fish? Do these fish eat the same exact natural food they find in the wild? Are they fed chicken feathers, chicken excrement, and other chicken by products along with grains and corn which might also be GMO? We the public want to know.
08/14/2013 3:17:50 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@BARRY - As part of our strict quality standards for acquaculture we prohibit the use of poultry and mammalian by-products in feed (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture). We recently announced GMO labeling for our stores. Our non-GMO labeling transparency initiative includes all the products we sell, going far beyond what any of the state initiatives and legislation have proposed so far. Products based on or containing ingredients created from government approved GMO crops will need to be labeled by manufacturers. This includes our suppliers of meat, dairy and farmed seafood, who will also need to verify by 2018 whether or not their feed contains GMO corn, soy or alfalfa. Shoppers who are looking to avoid products from animals can do so now by choosing organic meat and dairy products (since organic standards prohibit the intentional use of GMOs), farmed mollusks such as clams, oysters, and mussels (since no added feed is used when farming these species), or wild-caught seafood.
08/15/2013 4:52:48 PM CDT
sharmain says ...
I am doing a project over arctic char, and I was wondering if the location of these farms are in the heart of Reykjavik or reach a bit farther into the less urbanized areas. Do the people who work there live nearby and how many workers are there actually? I would greatly appreciate any information. thank you!
11/24/2014 8:12:56 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@SHARMAIN - Since this is an older blog post, I would suggest reaching out to your local store to find out their current supplier, then contacting that vendor directly for assistance.
11/28/2014 1:25:59 PM CST