In the aftermath of the failure of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, an international treaty organization, to maintain its agreement on Greenland’s salmon fishery, the Atlantic Salmon Federation is trying to control the potential damage to North America’s wild Atlantic salmon runs.
The salmon’s amazing life cycle propels them from natal rivers, thousands of miles to fatten up in distant waters and back to spawn. They cross international jurisdictions, making cooperation among Canada, the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation, Norway and Denmark in respect to the Faroe Islands and Greenland — all parties to NASCO — absolutely necessary to conserve the species. North America’s salmon migrate to Greenland to feed, and they made up about 79 percent of the harvest there, the rest being from southern European populations.
But there has been a growing storm at NASCO. Parties such as the European Union and Canada, despite significant fisheries in their own jurisdictions, have expected Greenland to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to limiting salmon harvests. Parties also delivered a punch to Denmark by completely dismissing the recommendations by an external review panel of three international experts to correct the imbalance between NASCO’s ability to regulate salmon fisheries at Greenland and the Faroe Islands and its inability to require other parties to do the same in their own jurisdictions.
At a time when some populations of wild Atlantic salmon have declined to historically low levels, the review panel, which had been contracted by NASCO to deliver an impartial assessment, recommended that NASCO update its focus and mandate to include stronger conservation measures in party jurisdictions. The Danish representative strongly objected to NASCO’s dismissal of this recommendation, pointing out, “There is an imbalance in NASCO between the regulatory measures for the distant-water fisheries and the ‘soft law’ measures applying to other areas of NASCO’s work. NASCO should be able to develop binding measures affecting all phases of the salmon’s life cycle.”
The significant Atlantic salmon harvests in 2012 of 348 tons by the European Union, 696 tons by Norway and 135 tons by Canada compared to Greenland’s harvest of 34 tons, coupled with the dismissal of any attempt to strengthen NASCO’s influence within Party jurisdictions, certainly hurt the credibility of other NASCO parties in their negotiation to curb Greenland’s salmon fishery. Pointing out the large harvests of other nations, Greenland has set a quota for salmon landings at factories of 35 tons and eliminated any cap or quota for its subsistence harvests.
So now we are left controlling damage caused by an ineffective international process that could easily more than double Greenland’s 34-ton harvest of 2012, potentially killing North American salmon from endangered populations and those not meeting spawning targets. The fishery will begin in August and run for about three months.
As well as elevating public awareness about this serious situation, ASF is working with others to limit this year’s harvest as much as possible. We are partnering with the North Atlantic Salmon Fund of Iceland to develop an action plan for seeking a renewed private sector agreement with Greenland’s fishermen, similar to our agreement in place from 2002 to 2009. Our hope is that this agreement will be met with the participation and support of the Greenland Home Rule Government and the appropriate Canadian and U.S. federal agencies. The intention of the private agreement is to respect Greenland’s right to a fishery while making conservation a priority and fairly compensating fishermen for suspending all or part of their quota.
ASF is also working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada toward a plan that will demonstrate leadership by Canada in reducing angler and First Nations harvests of Atlantic salmon. We are impressing upon government the importance of practicing precautionary management at home and curtailing harvests in all salmon fisheries, especially where populations are not meeting spawning targets or where the health of salmon populations are unknown due to inadequate assessment.
In the meantime, we urge all anglers to buy live release licenses where available and voluntarily release all the large salmon and grilse they catch. We ask First Nations to replace their gill nets with trap nets so that they can release the large spawners that are so important in seeding our rivers for future salmon runs and to reduce their harvests of grilse. We need to lead by example and take the difficult steps necessary to ensure that healthy wild Atlantic salmon runs are part of the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren.
Bill Taylor is the president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.