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reLAKSation no 1183

A different perspective: Dagens Naeringsliv’s columnist Anne Rokkan has written about wild salmon. She writes that there was a desperate reaction from the wild fish sector after the Norwegian Environment Agency announced that 33 salmon rivers would be closed to fishing.  However, she was unclear whether the concern was about wild salmon or that fact that their fishing holidays had been cancelled. She writes that many ardent fishermen now have to interrupt their great passions: casting out a hook, wait for the salmon to bite, drain it of all its strength whilst being dragged ashore, posed for a picture, release it again (or put it on the grill), wish it luck for its journey up the river and then talk about respect for this beautiful animal and the nature in which it lives.

Anne continues that the stock in some rivers has fallen by between 65 and 90% compared to last year, a year which was described as a record low. Despite such falls, Anne writes that many of wild salmon’s friends, to put it mildly, disagree with the conservation measures. The head of Veralselva joint management says that they will dispute the decision and the river management organisation Norske Lakseelver are hiring a lawyer. Others claim to be ‘shaken’ or ‘in shock’, Yet Anne points out that those who never put on waders, do not consider these new measures to protect salmon to be anything special, especially considering the number of reports that have been published about the state of wild salmon stocks in recent years.

Yet Anne says that it is understandable that salmon enthusiasts are angry as the threats to wild salmon have been well documented but at the same time, there is little indication that conditions will improve by themselves. She says that attempts to help salmon have been hampered by the sea of money.

Seemingly a number of those expressing concern about the closures are also concerned about the amount of money they will lose now fishing has been cancelled. In Ader and Trøndelag alone, there is a potential loss of NON 2330 million according to a report commissioned by Norske Lakseelver. They say that they are ready to help save wild salmon but don’t believe they should be picking up the bill. They want a compensation scheme like the one put in place during the pandemic. Alternatively, one river owner believes that fishing should continue so there was control over the fishing, even adopting mandatory catch and release. He has a list of anglers ready to agree to such terms.

Yet, Anne concludes that it should be obvious to all salmon’s true friends that the decision to stop fishing means that the Norwegian Environment Agency is doing its job because Norwegian wild salmon is an irreplaceable resource. She suggests that instead of fishing, those wanting a holiday should go walking in the mountains instead because it should be apparent to everyone that fishing for wild endangered salmon for fun is no longer an option.


Wild Fisheries: I’ve included this commentary in reLAKSation because it is good to remember that the wild fish sector should not necessarily be considered the voice of wild salmon. They very much have a vested interest and as I have pointed out before the Wild Salmon Strategy, with which they have been directly involved should really be called the Wild Fisheries Strategy.  Certainly, Dr Alan Wells argued against closing rivers to fishing as a measure of conservation when he was a witness at the Rural Affairs Committee salmon inquiry. He said:

When it comes to salmon conservation through a range of voluntary measures and self-imposed behaviour changes, to ensure that their actions are carried out responsibly. That includes changes to gear types and the practice of catch and release. In Scotland, 98 per cent of fish are returned. That is the highest level of any party to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization.

We voluntarily cease fishing at times of high water temperatures. Not only that, anglers are the eyes and ears on our rivers, and they regularly report illegal fishing, pollution incidents and invasive species. Indeed, if we did not have anglers on our rivers, we would not have known that we had invasive pink salmon in our rivers a few years ago. We rely on anglers to do that.

Although the IUCN has designated Atlantic salmon as endangered, it has recognised in its accompanying information the work that Fisheries Management Scotland—we were name-checked—and our members and anglers are doing to make things better. Yes, we could call for the cessation of angling, but that would not address the issues, including the conservation issues that Atlantic salmon face. In the case of illegal fishing it might make things worse, because we can see from the experience in Ireland and other places where fishing has been banned on some rivers that, if we do not have anglers on the banks of rivers, illegal fishing goes up massively.

It seems that the wild fisheries sectors approach to conservation is to ensure that they have as many anglers as possible on the riverbanks to deter illegal fishing. I am not sure why those patrolling the riverbanks need to be angling as well. There are plenty of examples of species protection groups who watch over their protected species without catching them for sport.

I have just come across the minutes of the Wild Salmon Strategy Science and Evidence Board meetings from 2023. This is the group providing scientific evidence in support of the Wild Salmon Strategy. The board met in May and August of 2023. The May meeting was the first meeting of the board, and they mainly discussed their remit. The August meeting was more varied. They firstly agreed that the language used in their terms of reference should be updated to reflect that wild salmon populations are at crisis point. After that, it seems that the board forgot that wild salmon were, and are, still in crisis.

The main points discussed concerned stocking, a subject which the Scottish Government have already imposed their view. The board held a discussion about the science of stocking which seems to have reflected current Scottish Government thinking that stocking is only appropriate when the Scottish Government thinks so.

After that discussion, FMS announce that they had secured funding for a PhD student to look at Saprolgenia. It was then announced that 43 pink salmon had been identified in Scottish rivers and finally a group on interactions between beavers and migratory fish is to be formed.

Having read these minutes, I can only conclude that the Science and Evidence Board clearly don’t think that wild salmon are in crisis.  Where was the talk of urgent action? Where was consideration of whether rivers should be closed to fishing if necessary? And where was talk of actually making assessments of the impacts of any of the other pressures that the Scottish Government has listed.

I don’t need to know the answer to these questions to understand why the Science and Evidence Board have not reacted as if salmon are really in crisis. As Alan Wells told the inquiry, that at sea, the focus on the impacts of wild salmon must be on those that can be addressed. He referred specifically to issues related to salmon farming, Thus, the focus is as expected and is on sea lice and salmon farming.  As the regulator is to impose a new regulatory framework on farmed salmon then the board clearly believe that the problem has been solved and salmon will soon be returning to Scottish rivers in ever greater numbers. Thus, the crisis has been dealt with and there is no need for further discussion. Angling can continue unabated, and it is therefore unnecessary to even consider any measures to impose a ban if necessary.


Meanwhile: A new paper from Norway published in the Journal of Applied Ecology considers whether sea lice associated with salmon farms had had any impact on the number of fish caught by recreational anglers. The authors have found that there is a significant correlation between declines in wild salmon catches and the increased number of adult female sea lice per square km.

This paper’s conclusion is extremely interesting as regular readers of reLAKSation will remember that I have charted the decline of wild salmon catches caught by recreational anglers from rivers along two very different coastlines; one with salmon farms and one without. The trend line of the rate of decline from both coasts is extremely similar and thus the only conclusion is that sea lice are not having any impact on the size of the catch. This is contrary to the view of the authors of this paper. However, they compared the catch from all 13 Norwegian production areas with a modelled estimate of the sea lice count in each area, yet because researchers have never found large numbers of sea lice in the water, there is no evidence that these lice actually exist as predicted. I therefore prefer to rely on the data from Scotland which is so clear cut.

The problem with this paper, one that comes from one of the known stables that try to blame sea lice for everything that is wrong with wild fish, is that the implication is that sea lice associated with salmon farms are responsible for killing the wild salmon that anglers want to catch and kill. Perhaps, if these researchers focused on trying to understand why wild salmon are in crisis rather than attacking salmon farming, then wild salmon, not just in Norway, might have a future but as long as the focus remains on sea lice, then wild salmon are still on track towards the possibility of extinction from many rivers.


Frenzied: Intrafish report that both scientists and river owners are in a frenzy about the collapse of salmon stocks in Norwegian rivers. Salmon anglers and landowners are anxiously waiting to see if the 33 rivers in southern Norway will be closed permanently whilst researchers are struggling to explain why salmon numbers have collapsed.

I suspect that they will struggle because they are looking at the most recent data and observations whilst the collapse is rooted in long-term changes in salmon population that have been largely ignored because the focus has always been on sea lice and as is now clear, the impact of sea lice is minimal.

Intrafish have interviewed the secretary of landowners along the Mandalselva who says that the worst thing about the collapse is that we have no idea what the cause is and as Intrafish point out, he is not alone in that view.

Kjell Utne from IMR suggests that the problem could be out at sea, yet he says that when they have caught post smolts recently on their trips out to sample mackerel, they have looked OK, if not better than in previous years so he says that there is nothing to suggest that something is affecting the early phase of salmon’s life at sea. At the same time, he has not seen any changes in sea temperature, or the amount of plankton. In addition, the population of mackerel is now in decline. Yet, this is just a snapshot of a short period of time and may not reflect the longer-term changes that have occurred out at sea.

Intrafish also talked to Øystein Skaala who has suggested that the collapse has affected rivers that are not near any salmon farms which would indicate sea lice are not to blame either, yet he indicates that with fewer fish, the impact of lice might be greater and thus more stringent regulation might be required. This is the same blinkered view that has been adopted in Scotland and will not help stop the ever-increasing decline in wild fish. As might be expected Intrafish also spoke to Torbjørn Forseth of the Scientific Council for Salmon Management who said that they have little control over conditions in the sea and there is very little that can be done to address them. Instead, we need to tackle the factors that we can influence such as sea lice. As I have discussed in a previous reLAKSation, this blinkered view is exactly why wild salmon numbers have collapsed. The Scientific Council need to address the issues responsible for the decline and if they don’t know what the cause of the decline is then they should be asking themselves why they don’t. If the Scientific Council for Salmon Management doesn’t understand what is happening to wild salmon, then perhaps they should resign.


River Owners: Critics of the salmon farming industry often point out how wealthy some salmon farmers have become (wrongly) claiming that this has been achieved at a cost to the environment. It was therefore interesting to read in Intrafish about the river owners of the Altaelva. For just a month from June 25th rich tourists come from all over the world to fish the Atta paying up to the equivalent of NOK 8000 per hour to fish this river.  The best beats costs NOK 400,000 for six days fishing with the price falling to NOK 300,000 for other parts of the river. The group of river owners are estimated to generate an annual turnover of NOK 20 million. Over the years, the income has helped pay for the construction of three hotels.

According to Intrafish, the Alta Laksefiskeri Interest Agency say all salmon must be taken off the fly and released back into the river. Only fish that have been caught in the gills by the fly can be kept. Last year, a total of 2211 salmon were caught from the river with an average weight of 6.56 kg. Intrafish don’t mention how many of the fish were killed. yet according to Norway’s Statistics, the total catch was 2,255 fish of which 1,658 must have been accidentally caught by the gills as this is the number recorded as slaughtered with just 587 fish returned to the river. This is the entry for the Altavassdraget, which is the same name mentioned at the start of the Intrafish article. It could be that only the Alta Laksefiskeri have imposed the catch and release rules rather than owners across the whole river accounting for the high number of fish slaughtered.

If the official statistics are right, and I am ready to be corrected, then it would appear that the river owners from the Alta are getting rich at a huge environmental cost to the river. According to Statistics Norway, the total catch and the numbers of salmon slaughtered and released since 2000 appear in the following graph.