Atlantic salmon face end of the line

Mark Jones jones118 at
Thu May 31 18:40:17 MDT 2001


WILD Atlantic salmon stocks have collapsed and the species is at risk of
disappearing without urgent international action, a report said yesterday.
Wild salmon have been eliminated from more than 300 of the world’s 2,000
rivers within their range and catches have plunged by 80 per cent in the
past 30 years. The crisis is blamed on a combination of commercial salmon
farming, overfishing, loss of habitat, global warming, man-made river
obstructions and industrial and agricultural pollution.

A four-year study by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that wild salmon
had virtually disappeared from Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands,
Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.It is on the brink of extinction in
the United States, Canada, Estonia, Portugal and Poland, leaving almost 90
per cent of the world’s healthy Atlantic salmon population in only Scotland,
the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Iceland.

In those countries 85 per cent of wild salmon populations are vulnerable,
endangered or critical. In England and Wales 29 of the 76 historically
salmon-bearing rivers have healthy populations, with 11 classified as
vulnerable, 19 endangered, ten critical and seven extinct.

Less than 40 per cent of Ireland’s 339 salmon rivers are healthy and 30 of
Northern Ireland’s 44 are vulnerable or endangered. More than 30 per cent of
Scotland’s 350 salmon rivers are endangered. Populations in 63 per cent of
the rivers were healthy, second only to Iceland.

Elizabeth Leighton, WWF’s senior policy officer, gave a warning yesterday
that without co-ordinated international action to restore threatened rivers
and protect those still healthy, “we could let the long-term future of the
species slip away”. She added: “When a river loses its salmon, that locally
specialised population is lost forever.

“The fate of the species is increasingly becoming a sad story of extinction
peppered across Europe. The numerous threats and damaging human activities
must be addressed.” WWF and the Atlantic Salmon Federation called on
countries attending the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation,
meeting in Spain next week, “to address the threats both at sea and in
rivers”. Among the biggest dangers to the wild salmon is the dominance of
salmon farming, which produced

600,000 tonnes of the fish in 1999, the last year for which figures are
available. That is more than 300 times the level of wild salmon caught that

Scotland, Norway and Canada, the world’s biggest Atlantic salmon farmers,
have seen drastic reductions in wild salmon returning to their rivers in the
past 20 years. In Scotland salmon farming production soared from 598 tonnes
in 1980 to 111,918 tonnes in 2000. That same year in Norway production rose
from 4,153 tonnes to 415,399 tonnes.

Millions of farmed fish in the two countries have escaped into salmon
rivers, where they compete with wild salmon for spawning partners and sites.
That leads to interbreeding and the spread of diseases, including salmon
lice, which can kill small and large wild salmon, the report says.

Ms Leighton said that Britain should be seen to take a lead in conservation
efforts. “As home to such a huge proportion of the world’s wild Atlantic
salmon, the British Isles, and especially Scotland, bears a huge
responsibility to raise its game to protect the king of fish.”

Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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