Big Atlantic Salmon Runs Foster Hope for Fish

January 10, 2005

Last year a silver tide of salmon flooded many rivers in Europe and North America. Scotland, Iceland, Canada, and other countries reported big gains in the number of Atlantic salmon returning to their native rivers.

The strength of these runs offers hope that conservation efforts are at last beginning to pay off, say activists who have sought to reverse long-term declines in Atlantic salmon stocks.

The Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is fabled for its extraordinary life story: The fish migrates hundreds, even thousands, of miles from ocean feeding grounds to run against the current in river rapids and on falls to reach the very waters where it was born.

Revered by anglers as the "king of fish," the salmon's reputation as a sport fish is unmatched.

Over the past 25 years the number of returning salmon has fallen to a fraction of the fish's historic abundance in many regions. Precisely why remains unclear. Possible factors include commercial fishing, reduced food availability at sea, degraded river habitats, and ecological problems linked to salmon farming.

However, conservationists take the recent upturn in European and North American salmon runs as a sign that wide-ranging measures to reduce commercial catches are helping to turn the tide the salmon's way.

Scotland's official catch by anglers for 2004 is set to top 80,000 for the first time in ten years, according to Scotland's Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB), based in Edinburgh. The 50-year annual average is 67,000 fish. Anglers on the River Tweed in southeast Scotland landed more than 14,000 salmon, one of the biggest hauls ever recorded in Britain. Several other Scottish rivers also broke their all-time records, according to the ASFB.

Renowned rivers such as the Miramichi and Restigouche in Canada and the Grey River in Newfoundland report some of their best salmon fishing in 20 years, said Orri Vigfússon, chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, based in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Iceland itself had its most productive season since 1978, with consecutive increases in the total number of salmon landed by anglers for the past four years.

Restoration Goal

The North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) is an international coalition of nongovernmental organizations with the stated aim of restoring wild salmon stocks. A privately funded body, the NASF has focused its efforts on reducing the number of fish taken by commercial fishers at sea.

"Too many salmon fall victim to commercial netting in salt water before the fish can reach the comparative safety of their home rivers," Vigfússon said. "This keeps the spawning stock artificially low—a desperately bad situation when stocks are low anyway."

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