Conservationists on Wednesday heralded the announcement that Greenland’s commercial catch of wild Atlantic salmon had hit a 13-year low and suggested that harvest could mean better returns on North American rivers where the fish spawn.
The New Brunswick-based Atlantic Salmon Federation said, citing the Greenland Fishery License Control Authority, that fewer than 18 metric tons were harvested off Greenland in 2018. That total is equal to about 5,270 fish and is the lowest catch on record since 2005, when an earlier conservation agreement was in place.
The federation says the result indicates a successful first year of a new 12-year salmon conservation agreement, which recently was signed by the union representing Greenland commercial fishermen, the federation and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund.
The agreement calls on Greenland fishermen to reduce their catch of wild salmon in exchange for assistance developing alternate sources of income and support for marine research and conservation projects.
“This is great news for wild Atlantic salmon, and full credit goes to our Greenland Partners, especially [the fishermen’s union], who showed openness and integrity in the spirit of the agreement,” ASF President Bill Taylor said.
Maine has several rivers where Atlantic salmon have typically returned to spawn, including the Penobscot. However, Atlantic salmon in Maine are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and fishing for them is not permitted.
The 2018 harvest of salmon in Greenland was listed at 17.79 metric tons, officially. That figure includes landings by professional and recreational fishermen. The agreement calls for a total harvest level of 20 metric tons for all fishermen. In the five years leading up to 2018, Greenland harvested more than 20 metric tons each year, with a low of 58 tons and a high of 27 tons, according to the federation.
Wild salmon from more than 2,000 rivers in North America and Europe congregate off the coast of West Greenland to feed and grow each year. Some fish spend as long as three years in that area before returning to home rivers to spawn. According to the federation, population analyses have shown that on average, 75 percent of the salmon harvested off Greenland are of North American origin.
The agreement also led to the adoption of new management measures including mandatory licensing and reporting for all salmon fishermen, according to the federation.
“The large, mature Atlantic salmon that were saved as a result of the first year of our agreement now have the chance to return home where they will make an important contribution to the next generation,” Taylor said. “We believe over the next 12 years this agreement will have a measurable, positive effect on wild Atlantic salmon populations throughout North America.”
Editor’s note: BDN publisher Richard J. Warren has previously served as U.S. chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.