NORWAY’S fisheries minister is to hold an urgent meeting with the salmon farming industry as it was disclosed losses from a major algae outbreak this week could reach more than two billion kroner – or around £200 million.
The state broadcaster NRK said that nothing has been seen like it for decades and millions of fish, with a potential sales value of 2.4 billion kroner, have already died.
The Fisheries Directorate is being more conservative, but estimated that losses up to Monday had reached NOK 620 million or £56 million.
However, the full scale of the disaster will not be known for several days. And the outbreak is continuing to spread.
The Troms and Nordland regions in the north of the country are the worst affected, but there are reports the algal bloom is spreading to other areas.
The total losses for the two main regions affected so far is around 12,000 tonnes and rising.
In one area, observers described the smell of dead fish as overwhelming, adding that the water had turned grey within an hour.
The minister, Harald T Nesvik (pictured), who visited a number of fish farms yesterday, described the situation as very serious.
He has invited companies to meet him to see what can be done to help the industry. But he declined to answer questions about offering financial help at this stage.
He pointed out that salmon farming was a subsidy free industry, which had made good money in past years.
‘We will discuss that issue at a later stage,’ he said.
The incident is arguably the most serious algae outbreak for many years. The last major outbreak was in 1991, but then Norwegian aquaculture was nothing like on the scale it is today.
More boats have been brought in to pick up dead fish, and scientists from a number of institutions are busy taking water samples to try to identify the cause.
Lars-Johan Naustvoll, a marine scientist and algae expert at the Institute of Marine Research, said it was too early to be certain about the cause.
Algae, he told NRK, happens as a result of a number of environmental conditions.
But he saw similarities with the outbreak in 1991, when there was a mix of sun and high temperatures after a period of heavy rainfall.
Meanwhile, the authorities are pulling out all the stops. The harvest boat Norwegian Gannet has arrived in the region to collect affected fish.
And the coastguard vessel Heimdal, specially equipped with a mobile laboratory so samples can be taken, has arrived in Nordland. Larger companies, such as SalMar, have also offered assistance.