Fifteen years ago the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) was launched as a last-ditch effort to prevent what then seemed to be the likely extinction of the wild Atlantic salmon. Now it seems that we are at last reaping the dividends of all the work that has gone into the intervening years.
There are still battles to be won before we can declare a successful end to our great conservation campaign. But, almost everywhere on both sides of the Atlantic, there are reports of a distinct and in some cases substantial upturn in runs of multi-sea-winter salmon.
These large fish are much the most valuable salmon to run our rivers, both in terms of their sporting value and their capacity to produce large numbers of healthy eggs that are usually more viable than those produced by grilse.
It is still too early to claim that the wild salmon’s future is now assured. But the indications of strengthening MSW stocks in the last two or three years are encouraging signs that the corner that leads to the recovery of stocks may have been turned. Some major and enduring obstacles to progress remain, of course, but even there we are seeing signs that long-standing obdurate opposition to NASF’s conservation philosophy is beginning to change.
It is, of course, the waters off Greenland that produce MSW salmon and it was here that the first great slaughter took place once the locations of the salmon’s sea feeding grounds were discovered. The destruction wrought by an international fishing free-for-all was so great that it quickly led to a slump in the stocks of Canada’s formerly prolific salmon rivers. It brought about the near-demise of the wild Atlantic salmon in the rivers of the USA.
It also led to the launch of NASF when founder-chairman Orri Vigfusson not only saw the dangers but decided to act. The Icelandic businessman saw that the Greenlandic waters were in danger of being completely denuded of feeding salmon. He spent the first funds he raised on rescuing the remaining fish from commercial exploitation and NASF, with relatively little financial help from other organisations, has continued to pour money into their protection ever since.
Apart from a small fishery that merely catches a few salmon for limited domestic consumption, the moratorium on killing salmon by Greenland’s fishermen continues. Thanks to the lucrative alternative fisheries for snowcrab and lumpfish caviar that NASF has encouraged, Orri expects to be able to continue to protect the sea feeding grounds indefinitely.
NASF has become a very successful international private sector organisation, recognised by every government that has interests in the future of the Atlantic salmon and given charitable status in some countries. NASF adopted the most obvious way to cure the salmon’s ills. It has increased the numbers of salmon that survive to spawn by saving them from the fishmonger’s slab.
This could have been a very unpopular medicine. But the cure was made palatable by paying commercial fishermen to volunteer to stop salmon fishing and by identifying other forms of work for them. It is a simple though expensive prescription but it is the one remedy that works...
NASF also recognised that much of the money to pay for this must come from the angling community. The donations would have not have been forthcoming if rod fishermen, who take only a small percentage of the stock, had been prevented from fishing. So NASF has persuaded many sport fishermen to release most of the salmon they catch.
Having won the backing of a number of other organisations concerned with the survival and restoration of wild salmon stocks, NASF vigorously lobbies governments, politicians and other influential individuals. We are determined to end damaging management practices and advance environmental standards.