May 11, 2012 8:07 pm
Fishing for success
Henry David Thoreau wrote more than 150 years ago that “perhaps the hunter is the greatest friend of the animals hunted”. Orri Vigfusson’s 23-year battle to save the world’s wild salmon from extinction proves the wisdom of the American philosopher’s words.
Mr Vigfusson, an entrepreneur and avid sport fisherman, has successfully reeled in a string of wealthy anglers to help his fight against the commercial fishing that has decimated salmon stocks. Paul Volcker, former head of the Federal Reserve, and the Prince of Wales are among those who have supported his campaign.
They may be acting out of personal interest. After all, salmon fishing is hardly a sport of the masses. A week in Iceland costs a hefty £6,000-£12,000, depending on the prospects of a catch.
But if so, their desire to land the king of fish is proving to be a force for the wider good. Mr Vigfusson’s conservation charity, the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, estimates that about 5m fish have been saved by buying up net fishing licences in rivers and the open sea. Anglers in Iceland are reporting record catches while hauls in parts of Scotland and Canada are also rising.
Not all this improvement can be attributed to Mr Vigfusson. Climatic changes may have helped breeding. But it is difficult to argue that there has been no positive effect from withdrawing the nets that stopped salmon from reaching their spawning grounds.
The salmon’s return offers new economic opportunities to remote wilderness areas. The programme has also brought new possibilities to the fishermen who were hauling in empty nets. They are not only compensated handsomely, but helped to set up new businesses in a revived angling industry or in sustainable fisheries.
Without recognising the commercial value of the netsmen’s rights – even if their catches were dwindling – Mr Vigfusson’s campaign would have been doomed. Along with his beloved fish.
May 11, 2012 4:50 pm
Deal lets salmon leap to breeding grounds
By James Pickford, London and South-East Correspondent
A tradition of net fishing dating back hundreds of years has been brought to a close after a salmon conservation group backed by Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman, bought out the rights of the last remaining netsmen in the Dorset village of Mudeford.
The wild Atlantic salmon that return to the area each year to breed will gain free passage to their spawning grounds on the Hampshire section of the River Avon and the River Stour in Dorset under the agreement, while the fishermen will receive financial compensation for giving up their ancient rights.
The deal is the latest milestone in a 23-year campaign by the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, a coalition of conservation groups led by Icelandic entrepreneur Orri Vigfusson, to reverse the decline of wild salmon stocks in northern Europe and America.
“This agreement shows that everybody recognises there’s a problem with salmon numbers and we need to work together to resolve it,” says Mr Vigfusson, 69, the founder of a premium vodka business and fly-fishing fanatic.
Mr Vigfusson has raised around £40m to buy out netsmen across the Atlantic region, drawing mainly on wealthy benefactors with a personal interest in fishing and conservation. In addition to Mr Volcker, other supporters include the Prince of Wales, while Mr Vigfusson’s connections extend to George H.W. Bush, former US president, whom he hosted on a fishing trip to Iceland.
The targets of his latest conservation drive, the Avon and Stour, have been noted since Saxon times for the quality of their fishing but have seen a calamitous decline in the number of salmon caught since the 1960s.
Brian Marshall, a local conservationist, says: “We used to catch salmon by the thousand on the Avon, but now it’s down to a few hundred at best. The average salmon catch on the Avon in the 1970s was 1,400 a year. In 2010 the total catch for both net and rod was 73.”
The Mudeford netsmen would make their catch by casting or “shooting” a net from boats near the mouth of Christchurch harbour, a narrow opening through which all the returning fish, including sea trout as well as salmon, must pass. The arduous work of shooting and hauling the nets could take place at any time of day or night, determined by the tides.
Far from fishing out the dwindling stocks, the netsmen have supported the conservation drive since the 1990s, tagging the salmon and returning them to the water. Rod fishermen, too, have been returning the salmon they catch on the Avon and Stour.
“They are like bars of silver in the water, the most magnificent of creatures,” said Mr Marshall.
Nonetheless, being caught in a net reduces a salmon’s chances of survival and of reaching its spawning grounds some 30 to 40 miles upriver.
The Environment Agency, which was involved in negotiating the agreement, says: “A number of studies have shown that quite high losses of salmon have occurred in the estuary.”
Some local fishermen have contested the deal, saying they had operated as netsmen for many years but missed out on the payout because they did not purchase a licence in the past two seasons. However, the Environment Agency says compensation was only available to those who had applied and paid for a netting licence. The amount received by the licensed netsmen has not been disclosed.
Those worried that the campaign will raise the price of salmon on their supermarket shelves can rest easy. The total reported catch of wild salmon across the north Atlantic in 2010 was 1,590 tonnes, against 1.46m tonnes of farmed salmon – about one wild salmon to every 1,000 farmed.
About 85 per cent of all Atlantic salmon quotas, licences and permits have now been bought up by Mr Vigfússon’s NASF – settlements that cover 5,200 netsmen. While there are signs of recovery of salmon stocks in Iceland, Canada and parts of Scotland, he is now focused on hold-outs such as Norway.
“My target is to make a fair deal with every single netsman who has the right to fish in the north Atlantic,” he said.