Profiles in Leadership – Orri Vigfusson

“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 . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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3 Responses to Profiles in Leadership – Orri Vigfusson

  1. Alan Meekings says:

    Hello John,

    Can I suggest another visionary leader, in the mould of Orri Vigfusson, worthy of your attention, and that’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

    His “Hugh’s Fish Fight” campaign, supported at celebrity level by Jamie Oliver, has arguably already done more than any other single thing to force a sensible change the Common Fisheries Policy across the EU through new legislation next year.

    Hugh’s primary focus is to eliminate the heinous, totally-avoidable, current practice of “discards” – and he has pretty much single-handedly forged an alliance of millions of active supporters to help him achieve this goal . . . including me.

    The focus of my own small contribution to this movement (to stop the unnecessary discarding of more than 50% of all the fish caught and killed in EU waters) has been to persuade all five of the MEPs in my area, who will be voting on this issue next year, to get behind Hugh’s Fish Fight.

    In my view, nothing would have happened without this individual intervention by a celebrity chef who: (a) cared; and (b) wanted to make a difference.

    You may wish to take a look at Hugh’s Fish Fight at, if you’re not already familiar with this campaign.

    As the site says, “Six months ago, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall left the comfort of River Cottage behind, and went on a journey to find out what was really going on at the industrial end of our fisheries. What he found was that things are not just bad … They’re mad.”

    Yours as ever,



  2. Pingback: McKinsey misses the point, again . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  3. Pingback: Over-fishing is painfully evident – action, no more studies | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

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