Chronicle Herald

Greenland doubles Atlantic salmon tonnage allowed under conservation deal

Aaron Beswick

Apr 3, 2019
Greenland’s Atlantic salmon harvest in 2018 was more than double the amount originally reported.

According to the latest report by the Greenland Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, about 40.3 tonnes, or 12,100 large adult salmon, were caught off the island country’s west coast in 2018.

That puts the catch well beyond the 20 tonne subsistence quota agreed to by the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and the Greenland fishermen’s union Kalaallit Nunaanni Aalisartut Piniartullu Kattuffiat (KNAPK) in a deal announced last May.

“It came as a great disappointment,” said Atlantic Salmon Federation spokesman Neville Crabbe of learning the numbers last Monday.

The deal inked between the salmon conservation organizations and the group representing Greenland’s fisherman saw the KNAPK agree to reduce its catches and its members submit to mandatory licensing and reporting requirements in exchange for grants aimed at sustainable fishery development, marine research, education, and eco-tourism initiatives.

While the amount of money involved in the 12-year deal is private, media reports from the time pegged it at being worth about $300,000 annually.

In January the Atlantic Salmon Federation celebrated the catch numbers received from the KNAPK stating that 17.79 tonnes had been caught in 2018 as evidence that the deal was working.

Crabbe said immediately after receiving the new estimate word was sent to the association’s membership who provided the funds through individual donations.

“We certainly have a duty to the people who support us and donate generously to make this possible,” said Crabbe.

The KNAPK could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Prime fishing spot an international pressure point

Salmon from some 2,000 rivers on either side of the Atlantic converge off Greenland’s west coast each summer to feed before returning home to spawn.

The discovery of this migration by humans around 1960 led to a gold rush by international fishing fleets. By the early 1970s the fishery peaked at over 2,500 tonnes annually.

Though harvest levels dropped precipitously through the 1990s, salmon stocks have not recovered.

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

A poorly understood increase of at-sea mortality that has risen even as harvest levels have decreased appears to be the culprit.

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. That number has since plummeted to between one and four per cent.

The deal signed last year was actually the third renewal of a previous agreement to keep the relatively small subsistence fishery in check.

Its addition of mandatory licensing for all people fishing salmon and daily reporting requirements could, said Crabbe, be part of the reason for the higher numbers in 2018.

Previous estimates pegged the unreported catch at nearly double the reported one.

The disparity between the 17.79 tonnes reported in January by the KNAPK and the 40.3 tonnes by a government ministry last week is attributed largely to catch figures for 2018 coming late from isolated municipal offices.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation doesn’t plan to abandon the deal with the KNAPK but instead seek ways to work with that organization to reign in the annual harvest.

“Everyone is keen to come back in year two of this agreement and do better,” said Crabbe.

“We’re determined to go back not just because is a 12-year agreement but mainly because we know it is the right thing to do.”


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