Irish Times, 29 Feb 2016: Angling Notes – Concerns over fish farming raised at salmon conference in Norway

“Norway’s Wild Salmon Declares Bankruptcy – Fish Farms the Principal Cause” read the rather harrowing slogan which greeted 300 people in attendance at the recent wild salmon conference in the Alta Ice Hotel, Sorrisnivia, Norway.

His Royal Highness King Harald, an ardent salmon fisher, was guest of honour accompanied by environment and fisheries ministers, top salmon experts and leading conservation groups.

A depressing paper by scientist Eva Thorstad showed there was only bad news to report. When taking into account the genetic integrity, spawning stock targets and harvestable surplus, only 22 per cent of Norway’s salmon rivers could be classified as environmentally sound.

Dr Poppe, professor at the Norwegian Veterinary College, painted a very bleak picture. He proposed a total clean-up of the fish farming industry and suggested that unless drastic actions were taken now game fishing could be effectively over within five years.

Kjetil Hindar, a leading international scientist on salmon genetics and evolutionary ecology, spoke on evaluating population genetics, conservation biology, farmed salmon escapees and the threat of genetically modified organisms.

His paper revealed the genetic impact of farmed salmon on the wild salmon population. It showed that 65 per cent of Norway’s salmon rivers were affected and that 20 per cent had already suffered serious damage.

Data provided by fish farmers in Norway claims that only 378,000 of their salmon escape yearly but scientists and stakeholders believe the annual average may well be more than one million.

The Government ministers promised better and stricter governance of fish farming and netting activities. Their comments aroused strong criticism as similar promises have never been honoured because of the very lenient interpretation of regulations, monitoring and policing.

The North Atlantic Salmon Federation (NASF) chairman, Orri Vigfússon, said: “Giving more power to people who have already failed so miserably won’t work. Their flawed ideas will never help the wild salmon either in Norway or the North Atlantic generally.”

Jens Flekke, chairman of NASF (Norway) said the production of 1.2 million tons of salmon in fjords has seen Norway lose control over escapes and sea lice. “Due to uncontrolled use of chemicals and medicines, lice have become resistant to all treatments and are now unmanageable.”

Official statistics show that 200,000-300,000 salmon escape each year from the pens. This number represents 50 per cent of the wild salmon population. “All farmed salmon must be tagged to end this confusion,” he said.

Orri Vigfusson, added: “Norway has no policy, no destination and no intellectual role in wild salmon. NASF calls on the Norwegian Government to develop and employ a completely new salmon policy that will enlist the help of a revised team of experts with new visions and the ability to rebuild this national resource treasure.”

“The Government of Norway must seek cooperation with the private sector in areas where creativity and intellectual expertise have proved successful,” he declared. “Norway needs new leaders to restore wild salmon stocks to their historic abundance. Dr Poppe is correct, if this isn’t done soon, it will be too late.”

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