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Sanctions impacting Finnish fish farmers

With exports to Russia at a standstill, millions of kilos of young rainbow trout may have to be destroyed.

Young rainbow trout in a pool in Enonkoski. Image: Kare Lehtonen/Yle

Ponds at Finnish fish farms are filled with fingerlings, originally intended for export to Russia, that could be raised for sale on the domestic market.

However, raising them all to adulthood would require expanded environmental impact permits.

Fish farming activities in Finland require an environmental permit, which specifies limits on the volume of fish that can be raised and the maximum amount of feed that can be used in raising them.

Fish farmers have been pinning their hopes on the approval of a petition to the Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry calling for a temporary easing of the rules to allow them to raise the young salmon they already have on hand.

On Tuesday, ministry officials announced that it can't be done, at least not yet.

"The Environmental Protection Act does not recognise the possibility of temporary flexibility for environmental permits, so we have tried to look for other means," says Timo Halonen, an adviser at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Support, research, and new permits

Rather than a temporary fix, fish farmers who want to expand production for the domestic market right now will likely have to go through the process of acquiring new permits with higher ceilings.

The Ministry of Agriculture is, though, providing funds for a project to be carried out by the Natural Resources Institute and the Finnish Environment Institute in cooperation with interested entrepreneurs to determine the conditions for expanding existing permits.

In addition, fish farmers can receive funding from the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund to help defray the costs of applying for new environmental permits and for implementing investments.

"However, no easy solution to the problem has been found," admits Halonen.

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Raising rainbow trout is multi-step process. During their first summer they grow from a few grammes in weight to 30-200 grams. In late autumn or winter they are moved into seawater ponds. The following summer they increase in size and in late autumn or the following year, when they weigh 2-2.5 kilos, they are ready for sale to consumers. Image: Timo Nykyri / Yle

No time to wait

Yrjö Lankinen, who heads a consortium of fish farms, says that he was not surprised that no immediate solution has been found.

"I thought that the machinery of bureaucracy would be inflexible, so I have been looking for new markets for the young salmon," Lankinen explains.

The largest companies that Lankinen represents, including Savon Taimen, Hanka-Taimen and Napapiirin Kala, currently have large excesses of salmon that are being raised.

"Some operators have found a place for them to be grown and some are taking a risk and raising them. What happens to those being raised at risk remains to be seen," Lankinen points out.

According to Lankinen, many of the places where these fish could be raised have also been waiting for a firm decision by the ministry.

"We would have been able to easily increase the volume of fish raised with our current facilities, but more can't be produced without permits," says Kari Vääräniemi, CEO and owner of Kalankasvatus Vääräniemi.

According to Vääräniemi, what the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has decided will not work in this situation.

He points out that it takes half a year to prepare a permit application and at least a year to complete the process.

"Now I'm not going to start applying for changes to permits. It's probably too late for these young salmon at this point anyway," Vääräniemi explains.

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Rainbow trout are usually sold when they reach 2-2.5 kilos. Image: All Over Press

Lower prices in the autumn?

If the large numbers of surplus salmon can be raised, the first batches to reach full size could find their way to the shops as early as next autumn, and the rest in early 2024.

Even if the extra rainbow trout appear on the domestic market at that time, it will not necessarily bring down the price of the fish. Fish feed has become more expensive, and the price level is determined in large part by outside factors.

"The price of Norwegian salmon determines our prices and prices internationally. The price of fish will probably not fall until the autumn, when the big harvests start in Norway, but I can't say how much it will drop," Lankinen says.