Chronicle-Herald

Atlantic salmon agreement tackles fishery on international scale

Aaron Beswick

Jun 1, 2018
There were 17.79 tonnes of salmon reportedly caught at sea by Greenland’s fishermen last year.

For salmon advocates, that’s a victory.

In the five years preceding the 2018 fishery, catches had ranged between 58 and 27 tonnes.

Like any victory, it came at a cost to both parties.

For the largely Inuit members of the Kalaallit Nunaanni Aalisartut Piniartullu Kattuffiat (KNAPK) it not only meant giving up a portion of their catch but also submitting to mandatory licensing and reporting.

For the Atlantic Salmon Association and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, it will cost about $400,000 a year, raised from their membership and directed through the KNAPK, to go toward research, economic development and enforcement.

“It is the best investment that can be made in Atlantic salmon,” said Bill Taylor, president of the Atlantic Salmon Association.

The deal with the KNAPK that sees it keep catches below 20 tonnes went into effect before the beginning of last year’s fishery. It wasn’t a new deal.

It was the third renewal of an agreement between two bodies advocating for the protection of salmon that leave rivers around eastern North America and western Europe and the fishermen who catch salmon at their feeding grounds off Greenland.

That deal lapsed in 2010 and during the years that followed, the at-sea mortality of salmon continued to be the prime culprit in the species’ long decline.

From an estimated total population of Atlantic salmon of eight million prior to 1990, numbers have crashed to between one and two million.

Until 1989, an estimated eight to 12 per cent of Atlantic salmon survived their journeys from home rivers to northern waters off Labrador and Greenland to come back and spawn.

In 1990 that number plummeted to between one and four per cent.

While not even the scientists blame the relatively tiny personal use/local market commercial fishery in Greenland for the recent declines, it doesn’t help an already threatened population.

The broader question of what’s causing the at-sea mortality when so much river restoration work has taken place over recent decades remains an issue of fervent debate, wide-ranging theories and extensive research.

“Fishing season in Greenland is middle of August to October, so those fish saved last year will be back this year,” said Taylor.

“They’re like compounded interest. These are the big spawners and they lay more eggs year after year. We’ve seen the impact on river counts each time a deal like this is in place.”

The deals with the KNAPK can be traced back to one determined Icelander.

Orri Vigfusson was an avid angler and businessman — he introduced Toyota to Iceland — and pragmatist who thought private citizens could do what governments and academic institutions hadn’t even tried.

“Everybody told him it was not possible. He said ‘I will do it,’” remembered Steen Ulnits of his friend and fellow salmon advocate.

“He was a typical Icelander. They take nothing for granted and take a very pragmatic approach to anything.”

Atlantic salmon are an international fish. They come from Canadian, American and European rivers and head to Greenland where they are caught largely by Inuit people who are acutely aware of the fact that they had been fishing and hunting sustainably for thousands of years before their colonizers made a mess of the natural world.

Telling them that they had to stop fishing salmon was not an easy sell to a people who had already seen so much taken.

Then there was finding money and political support from a variety of national jurisdictions with different government agendas and different languages to save a fish.

Ulnits, a fisheries biologist based in Denmark with long experience working in its former colony of Greenland, met Vigfusson in 1990 while angling in Iceland.

“He was a one-man army,” said Ulnits of his friend.

Vigfusson had founded the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, was raising support and money and had begun negotiating with the KNAPK. Ulnits joined the campaign, along with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and in 1993, the first version of the deal was signed.

That early version of the agreement only had voluntary reporting of catches. When it was renewed in 2002 it got some fine-tuning.

But then when that version expired in 2010, catch rates went back up and salmon continued their decline.

Vigfusson, the intermediary who had built a relationship of trust and respect with the KNAPK, had cancer.

“He had this close personal relationship with the Greenlanders that made it possible,” said Ulnits.

The disease killed him in 2017 and the world of salmon advocates mourned him.

“He didn’t die from a lack of fresh air,” said Ulnits.

Taylor, who had worked with Vigfusson on the 2002 agreement, along with those remaining at the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, is now building a new relationship with the association representing hunters and fishermen in Greenland.

There “was just a parting of the ways and it took a few years to get back to table,” said Taylor.

“The Greenlanders to their credit do see the benefit of this but these were complicated and serious negotiations.”

The new agreement is the longest yet, the most expensive and with the most rigorous enforcement.

Beyond that there are joint research programs with the KNAPK to help figure out what’s killing the salmon at sea.

In the meantime, it means upwards of 6,000 adult salmon a year get to head back to their home rivers.

https://www.thechronicleherald...

More Posts