The Greenland Government’s decision to restrict its national salmon catch to subsistence levels - 20 tonnes annually for the next three years (2012 to 2014) - came as a considerable relief to the non governmental organisations (NGOs) attending last week's annual meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) in Edinburgh.
Prior to the meeting NGOs had feared that a commercial fishery in Greenland would reopen, taking salmon conservation back to the 1960s when Greenland fishermen killed large numbers of salmon bound for the rivers of Europe, the British Isles and Eastern North America.
Greenland’s welcome decision stands in sharp contrast to the unwillingness of the UK and Scottish Governments to end the practice of mixed stocks coastal netting, which indiscriminately kills large numbers of salmon returning from their ocean feeding grounds to breed. Genetics-based mapping of salmon migrations is now starting to show from which region, and in some cases from which individual rivers, salmon originate.
Current estimates are that over 90% of the salmon that feed in the Greenland fjords are of North American origin, while it is estimated that less than 10% are fish from European rivers. But that 10% provides some of the best salmon seen in UK rivers. Multi sea-winter salmon returning from Greenland are usually fish that have spent two or three winters at sea. They have grown fat on the massive abundance of food available in the cold arctic waters of West Greenland and, by the time they reach our rivers in the spring months they are in prime breeding condition. Spring fish are the most prized of all salmon returning to our rivers and they are extraordinarily valuable both to local economies and to the future of the species.
At the same time the Government of the Faroes has decided not to set a quota for the salmon fishery in Faroese waters. While this may appear to be a retrograde step, it is likely that Faroese fishermen will show restraint by following the advice of the international Conference for Exploration of the seas (ICES).
Tony Andrews, Chief Executive of the Atlantic Salmon Trust commented on this news: "Having met Inuit fishermen last year in Greenland, it was clear that they are far from happy at having to restrict their own catches while European countries continue to exploit salmon in mixed stocks fisheries. It therefore came as a surprise that Greenland continues to restrict its salmon fishery. It is important that we seize this opportunity to take the science forward with a full analysis, both historical and current, of the genetic makeup of salmon caught in Greenland nets. We need to know more about which UK rivers are producing the salmon that go to Greenland to feed and grow large.”