Protecting wild salmon by dealing with Greenland

Above: Historic signing of Greenland Agreement on May 24 in Reykjavik, Iceland. From left, Bill Taylor, President ASF, Henrik Sandgreen, Chair KNAPK, Fridleifur  Gudmundsson, Chair NASF Iceland, Elvar Frifriksson, NASF Iceland


EDITORIAL: Protecting wild salmon, dealing with Greenland

May 31, 2018

The beleaguered wild Atlantic salmon, for decades its numbers in steep decline — with some significant exceptions — got thrown a lifeline this week.

It came in the form of a new international agreement that will end Greenland’s commercial salmon fishery for the next 12 years.

That’s huge news for conservation groups like the Atlantic Salmon Federation and North Atlantic Salmon Fund, which have been fighting to save the endangered fish from disappearing from more rivers in Eastern Canada, the United States and Europe.

Curtailing the Greenland fishery has long been seen as vital to reversing losses in Atlantic salmon stocks. That’s because while Atlantic salmon spawn in more than 2,000 far-flung rivers, while at sea they all congregate off Greenland and the Faroe Islands to feed.

What’s been particularly destructive, from conservationists’ point of view, is the Greenland commercial fishery has historically taken many large, spawning-age salmon — the very fish desperately needed to rebuild depeleted stocks.

Past experience has shown how much of a positive impact curtailing the Greenland commercial salmon fishery can have. Between 2002 and 2009, while a previous agreement sharply reduced fishing efforts off Greenland, Atlantic salmon numbers returning to North American rivers rebounded, climbing from a low of under half a million to reach 800,000. But after that agreement expired, stock declines resumed, dipping in recent years back down to the 500,000 level.

Atlantic salmon numbered 1.8 million in the early ’70s.

Under the new Greenland Salmon Conservation Agreement announced this week between the Association of Fishers and Hunters in Greenland and ASF and NASF, a commercial fishery that saw an average 45 tonnes taken per fisher will limit catches to a 20-tonne personal catch.

The two conservation groups will spend funds in Greenland communities equivalent to the value of Atlantic salmon their fishers won’t catch, estimated by observers at about US $4 million over the life of the agreement.

“The best way to save North Atlantic salmon is to reduce the number killed,” said Chad Pike, U.S. NASF chairman.

Proving dedicated conservationists can drive change directly, the two groups are funding the agreement without government assistance, relying on donors and fundraising.

Meanwhile, a complete moratorium on salmon fishing off the Faroe Islands will be extended for another 12 years.

While the good news is indeed welcome, Atlantic salmon still face many other challenges, including threats of disease from, and inbreeding with, escaped farmed salmon.

That said, this latest deal raises hopes for the iconic fish.