Washington, D.C. -- On the eve of a pivotal meeting in Iceland, fisheries experts called Thursday for critical new measures to stem an alarming decline in wild Atlantic salmon stocks, which have plummeted 50 percent over the past two decades. The urgent call to strengthen the enforcement of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) comes as that body is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
"After 20 years of operation, NASCO faces a critical choice in defining its role," said Dr. Andy Rosenberg, co-author of NASCO's Future: A Vision Statement (PDF format, 462k) and professor at the University of New Hampshire. "NASCO can be the principal instrument in restoring wild Atlantic salmon stocks to healthy, sustainable levels by taking resolute action on the full range of threats to salmon, or it can continue to confront these threats with very limited power," added Rosenberg.
In the statement, presented to the NASCO president and secretariat, the authors advance a constructive and dynamic new vision. The authors' 11-point agenda for action urges NASCO to initiate negotiations toward an international regime on aquaculture management to protect wild salmon and to strengthen the role of NASCO in habitat conservation and restoration. Next week's June 7-11 deliberations in Reykjavik, Iceland, will chart governmental progress toward restoring the species.
"Our Agenda for Action includes recommendations to establish a problem-solving committee to determine various ways of strengthening NASCO, including adding new language to the treaty to broaden its legal authority," said Dr. Wilfred Carter, co-author of the report and Canadian representative during the initial planning and development phase of NASCO in the early 1980s. "Without a group committed to working out these issues, time will run out for the wild Atlantic salmon."
Two of the world's leading conservation organizations, the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) convened the report's panel of authors and support their independent findings. "NASCO must become more effective than it has been in the past," said Bill Taylor, president of ASF. "NASCO meetings lack the urgency one might expect, given the alarming decline in populations of wild Atlantic salmon. We would like to see a reinvigorated NASCO with a new guiding principle of ecosystem-based management and a new orientation toward public awareness and
"We can't afford to lose this extraordinary species that symbolizes the environmental health of rivers and oceans," said Kim Davis, deputy director of WWF's Marine Conservation Program. "The public should be informed about the sobering status of the wild Atlantic salmon, a mainstay of the culture, history, and environment of thousands of rivers that empty into the North Atlantic."
The authors are also urging NASCO government delegates to develop a common strategy with other North Atlantic fisheries organizations for minimizing by-catch of juvenile salmon in pelagic fisheries such as mackerel. The experts further recommend making a stronger push for the establishment of river-by-river conservation limits in all salmon rivers to better guide management decisions.
Recent statistics published by the International Council of the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the scientific body that advises NASCO, indicate that, from 1983 to 2003, wild Atlantic salmon have suffered a decline of 41 percent in North America (Canada and the United States), 54 percent in Southern Europe (France, United Kingdom, and Ireland) and 36 percent in Northern Europe (Norway, Russia, Iceland, and Finland).
"NASCO has achieved its original mandate," concluded Bill Taylor. "This initiative presents an opportunity to put NASCO into shape to meet the challenges of the next 20 years. Our ultimate goal should be to reverse historical declines, and create healthy runs of the king of fish."
Learn more in WWF's Atlantic Salmon section.