Sunday, September 9, 2007

Nordnatur Day 10: In which I taste cod feed and say goodbye to the group

That’s right – we went to see a cod farm and see how the cod in sea cages are fed, and I tasted one of the feed pellets. Mostly herring and capelin, although it is 18% soy-based. Gross stuff, too, let me tell you – I’m happy to leave it all to the cod.

It was a beautiful last day to spend out on the fjord, though, and it was fun to watch the fish come to the surface to eat. We mostly got to sit back and enjoy the boat ride and watch the feeding procedure as we went to the different groups of cages. The company that owns the sea cages for cod in Eyjafjörður has three different classes of fish in the cages: a few near Hrísey are stocked by wild fish caught as juveniles by commercial fishermen who rather than throwing back the undersized fish bring them back to the cages; most are stocked by wild fish caught when they are about ten grams, which are then grown inside over the winter and then put in cages in the spring when they are about seventy grams; and some are also stocked by cod bred in captivity at the MRI’s aquaculture lab in Grindavík and have never lived in the wild. I couldn’t tell any difference just from looking at the fish in the cages. The guys on the boat said that the lab-bred fish taste better, though we speculated that he might have been paid to say that, or – my guess – it’s all about expecting it to taste different but you couldn’t tell in a real taste test (like the classing Coke and Pepsi debate).

The outside of the cages is held up by buoyant tubing that you can walk out on to get up close for feeding or taking care of any other kind of maintenance:

or just getting up close to look at the fish.

Each cage’s worth of fish got about 200 kilograms of feed (eight bags), which the guys from the company scooped out and threw into the water in the cages.

It’s a good thing the cod seem to like this stuff a lot better than I do.

We also got to see how they clean the dead fish out of the cages, a particular problem right at the time that we went out because some of the fish had become infected with a virus that attacks their kidneys and kills them. They told me the name of the virus in Icelandic (though of course I don’t remember now), which they had learned by sending some of the fish away for testing, but didn’t know the name in English. They had given the fish a medication after they learned what the virus was and apparently there were fewer dead the day that we went than a few days prior, but it still seemed like a lot of dead fish.

In each of the cages we stopped at, even the ones where it wasn’t obvious that there were a lot dead, they used this net to clean out all the dead ones and keep them away from the remaining healthy fish.

The risk of fish catching viruses like this is among the reasons that cod aquaculture is still in the developing stages. With the fish all close together in pens they can easily spread disease if one gets sick, in addition to the potential for increased disease risk since the high concentration of fish can actually pollute the water, especially in more isolated fjords. You might also remember that at the beginning of the summer I helped with a project researching the Lion’s Mane jellyfish that have been clogging the nets in the autumn, which kills the fish inside because they develop infections in the places where they are stung by the jellyfish. The master’s student who is running this project, Guðjón, was back in Eyjafjörður while we were there, so he talked about his project and showed the group how he’s been collecting the samples, which he’s been doing for pretty much the whole summer. I think aquaculture is going to become an increasingly significant provider of the world’s fish supply over the coming years, but there are still some kinks in the procedure to work out before cod farming could begin to push out regular fishing.

And thinking of kinks to work out, we also found a fulmar that had flown inside one of the sea cages, no doubt looking for an easy meal, and couldn’t figure out how to fly out.

But, never fear, when we stopped at the cage, the guys from the company went out and opened up part of the net and did their best to scare it back out of the cage.

Fly away home!

And the next day I parted from the rest of the group as everyone else headed to the airport to fly away to their own homes and I set off on my fourteen-hour bus and ferry trip from Akureyri to Vestmannaeyjar.

Here’s a picture of all of us together before we all headed our separate ways:

You can also see more on Hreiðar’s website for the course about some of our lectures and links to relevant websites and pictures from some of the other people in the group. Also, I now have a second Picasa website for my pictures – with full-size versions of my huge number of pictures I managed to fill even the free space provided by Google, but they have no problem giving me as many sites as I want. You can find the link to that site and to the pictures from the first part of my Watson adventure on the side of this page underneath where it says “Pictures!” So that’s all now for the blog housekeeping and now I’m caught up to my time on Vestmannaeyjar, where I’ll be just for one more day. Stories of small-town adventures and volcanoes and baby puffins coming soon.

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