The Greenland Interceptory Fishery was one of the great cautionary tales of the last half of the 20th century.
Through the 1960s and 1970s large numbers of wild Atlantic salmon were harvested on the great ocean feeding grounds off Greenland. Atlantic salmon from North American and from Europe would migrate to these waters to feed, grow and then return to their spawing rivers where they would deposit large numbers of eggs in spawning beds, often great distances from the ocean.
By the late 1990s the populations had crashed to critically low levels, largely due to both overfishing and unknown factors that more than doubled mortality at sea.
Besides the drastic decline in numbers overall, these interceptory fisheries take fish from many rivers at once. Some may be from runs that can tolerate the harvest, while others originate from rivers at critically reduced levels. This is an issue for all interceptory fisheries.
To bring a more rational approach to determining harvests, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, or NASCO, was created in 1982. Like a United Nations of countries having Atlantic salmon populations, it would also rely for scientific advice on an impartial organization, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, or ICES.
Atlantic Salmon returning from Greenland waters reached their low point in 2001, and everyone sought a better solution
The Initial Solution
ASF, working in concert with its partner, the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF), developed an agreement with KNAPK, the organization representing Greenland's fishermen. By this agreement, the salmon nets would be retired in exchange for assistance in developing alternate economic opportunities. From 2003 this agreement was in effect, and only Atlantic salmon for local consumption in Greenland were harvested.
NASCO has also made decisions based on the advice from ICES scientists for no salmon fishery, and as of 2012, there is no commercial harvest of Atlantic salmon in Greenland waters. There remains a harvest for internal consumption that claimed 6,800 salmon (28 tonnes) in 2011. It should be noted that 91% of these salmon were of North American origin.
Other Interceptory Fisheries
Around the North Atlantic other interceptory fisheries exist. In the eastern Atlantic there is a fishery around the Faroe Island feeding grounds, and along coasts in several parts of Europe.
In North America there remains an interceptory fishery related to the French islands of St-Pierre et Miquelon that took 3.75 tonnes in 2011, the highest since the record series began in 1990.
Working for New Solutions
ASF promotes an end to interceptory fisheries wherever they exist, since they do not discriminate an Atlantic salmon from a run that might be endangered from another salmon that is part of a healthy population. This is an essential part of rebuilding Atlantic salmon runs to historic highs
Where coastal interceptory fisheries are involved, national governments need to be encouraged to phase them out. In Canada, ASF draws attention to the Labrador coastal fishery and the impact on those rivers with low salmon runs.
Internationally, ASF appreciates the work NASCO is doing, and ASF together with other Non-Governmental Organizations from Europe are seeking ways to reduce such interceptory fisheries.