Friday, June 22, 2007

King Salmon

This is a very nice profile of a man and an organization working to protect the wild Atlantic salmon.

Orri Vigfússon
Saving the King of Fish
June 19, 2007

Orri Vigfússon has been called the most honored angler on earth. But to Vigfússon, the fish is the thing—specifically the wild North Atlantic salmon, or as it is often called, the king of fish.

Vigfússon grew up on the north coast of Iceland in a fishing family that watched its herring catches disappear as the fish population declined. When, in the 1960s, he began to notice a decline in salmon returning to Iceland’s rivers from their ocean feeding grounds, he resolved that this species would not fall victim to high seas or coastal netting.

A businessman with diverse commercial interests, Vigfússon became a philanthropist, founded the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and has spent the past 17 years fighting to preserve a species that, when he began, was endangered and becoming more so.

He began with the belief that professional fishermen have the right to earn a living. Hence the fund’s guiding principle that every netsman who volunteers to stop salmon fishing must receive fair compensation and help in finding alternative employment.

That is the basis of the commercial agreements that now protect the salmon’s high seas feeding grounds off Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes, the shores of Canada and northeast coast of the USA, the coastal waters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and, most recently, the Trondheim region of Norway and coastal Ireland.

The fund’s second guiding principle is that salmon management is best left to the private sector. This is based on Vigfússon’s experience with several Icelandic angling clubs which successfully run some of the country’s best-known salmon rivers.

This private sector strategy has been both effective and rewarding. Iceland’s wild salmon are now key contributors to the national economy. Across the North Atlantic, private incentives have enhanced conservation efforts and the value of salmon to fishermen, landowners and rural economies.

Vigfússon, now the fund’s international chairman, has been honored by Denmark, Iceland, Britain’s Prince Charles and, most recently, with the Goldman Environmental Prize, which annually goes to six grassroots environmentalists.

Vigfússon plans to use the $125,000 prize to attract matching funds that will improve the river spawning grounds for his king of fish.

Philanthropy: Many Americans, including philanthropists otherwise involved in conservation issues, may not be familiar with wild Atlantic salmon. Could you talk about why it is such a prized fish and how it contributes to North Atlantic economies?

Mr. Vigfússon: The North Atlantic salmon is thought of by many as the king of fish. It is a spectacular creature, and it has a very exciting life history. It’s born in a river as an egg and spends two to five years in the rivers before there is a chemical change in the body of the fish that produces an urge to go to sea to feed.

They go out into the Atlantic, whether they are from the United States, Canada or Europe, and they spend one to five years feeding on the high seas, normally in the area where the surface temperature is between four and eight degrees Celsius.

Then they get the urge to go back home to spawn. They always find their own home rivers—or that’s how the story goes. For example, most of the salmon from rivers in New England seem to feed off the west coast of Greenland before returning to the rivers where they were born.

These rivers are usually located in rural areas, and salmon fishing usually provides a very high proportion of the income of the people who live in those areas. On the west coast of Iceland, probably 75 percent of farm income comes from sport fishing. The farmers operate lodges and provide fishing guides. A typical farmer gets 50 to 70 percent of his income from that. And then he runs a pony trekking operation, or perhaps has rug-making equipment.

Whatever the farmer’s other sources of income may be, salmon fishing is important. Salmon are very exciting game fish, so people pay very high prices to come and fish for them.