Atlantic salmon group strikes deal to stop Greenland fishery for 12 years

The Atlantic Salmon Federation has reached an agreement with Greenland and Faroe Islands fishermen to stop commercial fishing of salmon in areas where salmon converge to feed for the winter.

Ban will include the entire west coast of Greenland and all of Faroe Islands

The Atlantic Salmon Federation has announced two agreements that ban commercial salmon fishing in Greenland and Faroe Islands waters for the next 12 years. (Tom Moffatt/Atlantic Salmon Federation)

The Atlantic Salmon Federation has reached an agreement with Greenland and Faroe Islands fishermen to stop commercial fishing of salmon.

Salmon from more than 2,000 rivers converge on Greenland and Faroe Islands waters. Some are healthy, but others are endangered salmon from the St. John River and Penobscot River in Maine.

"It's a huge win for wild Atlantic salmon, particularly in Canada," said Bill Taylor, the president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. "In a given year 75 or 80 per cent of salmon caught in Greenland are of Canadian origin."

The 12-year Greenland Salmon Conservation Agreement was announced Monday afternoon in partnership with the North Atlantic Salmon Fund in Iceland.

The two conservation organizations and the Association of Fishers and Hunters in Greenland finalized the deal last Thursday in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Greenland and the Faroe Islands, an archipelago halfway between Iceland and Scotland, are both autonomous nations under Denmark.

On the Faroe Islands side, the salmon deal first came into being in 1992, but it was renewed for another 12 years on May 22.

Fridleifur Gudmundsson, the chair of the fund in Iceland, described the Greenland deal as buying the commercial fishing rights from the many small, mostly Indigenous, fishing communities along Greenland's west coast.

Protected treaty right to fish

Taylor said the people of Greenland have a protected treaty right to fish in the waters, which is one of the main reasons why a 20-tonne personal allowance was added.

"Yes, they're harvesting 20 tonnes. We would have liked to see that a little lower, but we also have to keep in mind that these are Indigenous people for the most part. Greenland is very isolated place ... Salmon is an important part in their diet."

Gudmundsson said that historically, the communities fished around 45 metric tonnes of salmon. 

On the Faroe Islands, there will be no salmon fishing at all.

Supported by donors, conservation groups

Taylor said the money to sustain this commercial fishing hiatus is coming exclusively from private donors and conservation bodies. No money is coming from the government.

He and Gudmundsson said they cannot disclose how much money was spent to make this ban happen. But Taylor said the money provided to the fishing communities will be equivalent to the market price of the 25 tonnes of salmon they're no longer allowed to catch.

Considering the fair market price of salmon in Greenland and the average volume involved, the amount could reach just under $4 million US in 12 years.

That area on the west coast of Greenland is particularly important to conserve because it's a "mixed-stock" fishery, which means salmon from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean gather over the winter to feed.

And one of those rivers is the St. John, where fish end up spawning. The average lifespan of salmon is five years, so two generations of fish will be protected, Gudmundsson said.

Mature salmon that would otherwise be fished in those feeding grounds will begin returning to their home rivers in the spring of 2019.

In return, the conservation groups will be providing funds to "support development programs," or other means of revenue for fishermen.

Gudmundsson said each year, the salmon organizations will decide where that money will go, whether it's to alternative fishing methods or tourism projects. He said they're still deciding what the best project is for 2018-2019.

With files from Harry Forestell