NGOs Opening Statement at NASCO

Opening Statement -
by the NGOs to the Thirtieth Annual Meeting of  NASCO

Drogheda, 2013

We welcome you all to Ireland and to the banks of the Boyne River, where a great battle was fought in 1690 that defines our history to this very day.  The battle to restore our wild Atlantic salmon is especially urgent today, and we hope that the legend of the ‘Bradan Feasa’ or Salmon of Knowledge will inspire this 30th annual meeting of NASCO to take real action in conserving this iconic North Atlantic species.

In last year’s opening statement, the NGOs welcomed the recommendations of the External Performance Review.  While we do regret the marginal involvement that was given our group by the Parties in the process of considering the recommendations, we appreciate being allowed to present a brief to the meeting of Parties in February.  In it, we urged that NASCO establish a Working Party to consider various ways of strengthening NASCO as recommended by the External Reviewers, including the addition of new language to the treaty to broaden its legal authority.  However, the Parties baulked at reopening the Convention and at giving consideration to NASCO having power to ensure that appropriate actions are taken to conserve and protect wild Atlantic salmon within Party jurisdictions.  There will be an opportunity later today to consider in more detail the outcome of the inter-sessional meeting of the Parties, but, at this point, we simply record our extreme disappointment with this decision.

As Greenland and the Faroe Islands have repeatedly pointed out, there is hard, treaty-based law to constrain their ability to exploit the resource.  But there is only the softest of soft law to control the exploitation of the ‘home’ nations and to require them to take the measures necessary for the welfare of the species.

The NGO group has consistently supported the Implementation Plan and Review system as a means of bringing greater transparency to bear on the plans, activities and outcomes of salmon conservation measures in individual jurisdictions.  But transparency can only go so far when there are no redlines against which to measure progress.  The limitations of transparency as a management tool are further constrained by the failure of Parties to question and exert pressure on each other to conform to the agreed guidelines.

Since our last meeting, there has been no improvement in the key indicators of the overall state of salmon abundance in the NASCO area.  Nor have we seen much progress in the key areas of mixed-stock fishing in certain home waters.  On the salmon farming front, there is little evidence from any jurisdiction of improved siting or regulatory decisions by the authorities or of improved management practice by the operators.  Problems of disease and discharge of waste are now being added to the previous priority threats of sea lice infestation to migrating smolts and of escapes.

The future for Irish salmon appears especially bleak in the face of new policy that will allow unbridled development of offshore open pen salmon farms to increase production from 14,000 to 150,000 tonnes in the salmon’s migratory channel off the west coast.  The first mega farm is planned for Galway Bay, a mecca for domestic and international tourists.  The NASCO NGO Group, on behalf of millions of people around the North Atlantic who value their wild Atlantic salmon, urges the Irish Government to stop this destructive expansion of open net pens.  The Irish Government must develop alternative industries and employment opportunities such as expansion in tourism and fisheries, which depend on a pristine environment and abundant wild fish populations.  It’s time for government to rethink its obsession with open net pen salmon aquaculture, which contributes to declining salmon populations, and displaces fishermen and tourists wherever it operates.

The reaction of the Parties to the External Review is putting a lot of faith in Implementation Plan review and annual reporting to ensure that the goals of NASCO agreement are met through clearly described, measureable outcomes and timescales.  Yet, only 9 of 17 of the Parties submitted their implementation plans by the February 1 deadline, three Parties did not submit at all and a fourth submitted almost three months late, and well after the review group had met.  Few Parties consulted with stakeholders in preparing their plans.  Many of the Parties had to be prodded by the Review Group to supply evidence in the form of measurements that would signify effective actions, such as progress in sea lice management and containment.

You will understand then why the NGOs remain unconvinced that the Implementation Plan process alone will inspire Parties to better conserve and protect wild Atlantic salmon in their jurisdictions.  We hope to be proven wrong but, for the time being at least, our main concern continues to be a perceived lack of political commitment across the range of wild Atlantic salmon to effectively protect this species, and to restore its many diverse stocks to anything close to their former status.