“My objective is to restore the abundance of wild salmon that formerly existed on both sides of the North Atlantic. This can only be achieved by safeguarding the fish at sea. If the numbers of salmon and many other species of fish are to be rebuilt, we must also protect the whole marine food chain.” ~Orri Vigfusson
Several years ago I had the pleasure of fishing in Iceland with Orri Vigfusson, founder of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund. See my earlier blog on Iceland fishing with Orri Vigfusson and Jack Hemingway.
I often hear people say, “What can I do? I’m just one person. I can’t change the world!” I know how easy it is to get demoralized and depressed with the current situation of our negative impact on the global environment. But here is a story of David vs. Goliath that we can all take inspiration from. If you have the energy, a good idea, and the commitment, you really can change the world.
In the latter part of the 20th Century it was becoming obvious to commercial and sport salmon fishermen that North Atlantic salmon stocks were rapidly declining and dangerously low. Fewer fish were being caught in nets or with flies. No one knows what the tipping point to extinction is, but everyone knew it was coming.
What to do? You could either form a government commission to do yet another study, or find a good idea and run with it. That’s what entrepreneur and salmon fisher Orri Vigfusson decided to do. Looking at the causes of the decline in salmon, he came up with a long list: pesticides in streams, silt in the rivers from farming and construction, habitat and streamside erosion, growing populations of seals, and overfishing with nets in the estuaries and out in the North Atlantic. Realizing he couldn’t do everything he focused on the biggest predator, fishing nets and commercial fishing. A rise in commercial fishing was taking tons of fish out of the North Atlantic, contributing significantly to the decline.
But fishermen need to make a living and for many of them their fishing stretched back for generations. Yet the declining stocks made their lives more precarious. So Vigfusson founded the North Atlantic Salmon Trust to raise money to buy out the fishermen. To basically pay them for not fishing. While controversial at first, the scheme caught on as fishing families now had a guaranteed income rather than the previous up and down income.
Since 1989 the organization has raised US$35 million to buy the netting rights from commercial fishers across the North Atlantic. NASF has also brokered moratorium agreements with several national governments. These efforts have dramatically improved salmon fish stocks in numerous countries.
Obviously the job of protecting wild salmon stocks in not over and finding the right balance for the fish, commercial fishing and sport fishing will take persistence and wisdom on the parts of all parties.
The world needs more “Orri Vigfussons” to help attack the next big wild fish problem; salmon farming that is harming both estuarine ecosystems and wild fish stocks. Orri’s story is proof that one person can make a difference. So can you and I.
Tight Lines . . .
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