Greenland resistance at international body puts Atlantic salmon at risk

Greenland defies scientific consensus as U.S., Canada, and European countries push for reduced salmon catch
Jun 9, 2021
ST. ANDREWS – Delegates to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), who met virtually last week, have adopted a one-year, interim regulatory measure for the Atlantic salmon fishery off west Greenland.

Greenland representatives at NASCO unilaterally put forward a 27-tonne (8100 salmon) total allowable catch proposal with no payback provision for recent overharvests. This follows the expiry of a three-year regulatory measure that included a 30-t total allowable harvest and contravenes scientific advice provided to NASCO, which states there should be no mixed stock harvest off Greenland.

NASCO is an international forum in which member countries discuss issues related to Atlantic salmon and set regulatory measures, although decisions are not binding. Despite criticism from U.S., Canadian, and European members, the Greenland delegation persisted, and its proposal for the 2021 Greenland fishery was accepted.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) are non-government observers at NASCO and followed the Greenland harvest negotiations closely.

“The Greenland Atlantic salmon fishery is small and well managed compared to the past, however it is still having an outsized negative effect on populations in home-water countries around the North Atlantic,” said Bill Taylor, president of ASF. “Like the U.S. and Canadian representatives to NASCO, who spoke strongly against this interim regulatory measure, ASF is disappointed and concerned.”

Because Atlantic salmon from more than 2,000 rivers in North America and Europe migrate to ocean feeding grounds off Greenland, participants in the fishery there capture individuals from relatively healthy populations alongside critically endangered ones. In addition, only fish that spend multiple winters at sea travel to Greenland. These large fish are predominantly female and carry significantly more eggs than smaller adults.

“The large salmon that are critical spawners are far less abundant than they used to be in Europe and U.K., and therefore it is important to protect them. Despite major improvements in the Greenland Atlantic salmon fishery in the last few years, we are worried that the new interim regulatory measure will not do enough to protect these fragile stocks,” said Elvar Fridriksson of NASF, based in Iceland.

In 2019, before Covid-19 suspended an international sampling program for landed Atlantic salmon in Greenland, genetic analysis revealed that approximately 75% of individuals sampled in a given year were of North American origin, where many populations are the focus of intense, ongoing recovery efforts led by federal, state, provincial, Indigenous and non-government organizations.

ASF and NASF recognize the right of Greenlanders to fish salmon in their territorial waters. However, current harvest levels must be balanced with the responsibility we all have to protect nature and the environment. ASF and NASF were aligned with the U.S. and Canadian NASCO delegations calling for a 20-t total allowable harvest, in line with our current Greenland Salmon Conservation Agreement.

Signed in 2018, the three-party Greenland Salmon Conservation Agreement between ASF, NASF, and KNAPK (the Greenland fisheries union) is outside of the NASCO process and creates incentives for fishers to reduce their harvest of Atlantic salmon to subsistence levels. The 12-year agreement has established a 20-t (6000 salmon) annual target.

“We will continue to work with our partners to execute the agreement. ASF urges the member countries of NASCO to keep working with the Greenland government for a lower total allowable harvest, which includes reductions to account for recent overharvests, and to do more to conserve wild salmon in their home countries,” said ASF’s Bill Taylor.

The one-year interim management measure for the Greenland Atlantic salmon fishery adopted at NASCO will expire prior to the 2022 fishing season. It’s likely that negotiations will take place at next year’s NASCO annual meeting in an attempt to reach a multi-year agreement.

For more information contact:

Neville Crabbe
ASF Communications
ncrabbe@asf.ca
(506) 467-6804

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