(This story was first published in The Herald, 15 August 2008)

THE Scottish government has been accused of persisting with “misguided” policies towards the preservation of wild salmon stocks according to one of the world’s most respected conservationists.

Orri Vigfússon, chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, claims the SNP administration “seems determined to pursue exactly the same destructive policies” that were followed by previous Labour governments.


Orri Vigfusson
Orri Vigfusson

He says that Scotland’s recently-launched strategy for freshwater fisheries is “vague” on any plans to halt coastal mixed-stock netting and warns that further delays may threaten the agreements which the NASF has established to help end commercial fishing in the salmon feeding grounds off Greenland and the Faroes.


The NASF has raised more than £15m during almost 20 years, leading the way in providing financial compensation to commercial drift and coastal netting owners around the north Atlantic if they stop fishing for salmon. There has been a resurgence in some wild stocks as a result.

Icelandic vodka millionaire Vigfússon, who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last year, has persuaded many fisheries to abandon netting for salmon in favour of other species such as lumpfish, snowcrab and turbot. He has been knighted in two countries for his work.

His attack closely follows a stern warning from the Greenland and Faroese authorities to the Scottish and Norwegian governments in June at the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation’s annual meeting.

“Why are you undermining our efforts to restore the international stocks of wild Atlantic salmon?” they asked in a statement. “We have reacted responsibly to the scientific advice for years, why not Scotland and Norway?”

The concerns focus on the reluctance of Scotland and Norway to end costal and in-fjord commercial netting operations which conservationists insist indiscriminately capture salmon returning to native rivers to breed.

In a letter to this month’s Trout and Salmon magazine, Vigfússon strongly criticises Scotland for dragging its heels in buying out almost 60 mixed-stock netting operations around our coasts. Figures from the Salmon & Trout Association say the nets capture 25,000 wild salmon annually.

Vigfússon writes: “Unfortunately, too many Scottish politicians, civil servants and fishery boards continue to believe they have exclusive rights to the exploitation of salmon. Not so: Scotland, Norway and other nations have agreed as a matter of international co-operation that these rights must be shared with host nations like Greenland and the Faroe Islands.”

He says there is no such thing as an adult Scottish salmon, pointing out that up to 90 per cent of the biomass of salmon caught in Scotland is created in the waters of the Faroe islands and beyond.

Pressure on the coastal netting operations is growing. Last winter the S&TA, whose patron is Prince Charles, launched an online petition seeking the closure of netting stations around Scotland from Eyemouth to Annan. Executive director, Paul Knight, said yesterday:

“I think Orri has raised some very salient points. The Scots and Norwegians were put under intense pressure at the NASCO conference and have to be seen to take some action before next June.

“It is pointless allowing salmon to regenerate around Greenland and the Faroes if they are being intercepted indiscriminately before they reach their spawning rivers. There is a real risk these countries will resume their netting operations if other nations do not act. ”

However, Knight said he was confident Scotland’s new freshwater fisheries forum would formulate a plan for buying out the coastal stations. “I get the distinct impression the Scottish government realises it will have to make moves this autumn,” he said.

A spokesman for the Scottish rural affairs and environment department said:

“Scotland, as part of the EU delegation to NASCO, does, and will continue to, play a substantive role in the management of the wild Atlantic salmon stocks. We are fully aware of the position of Greenland and the Faroe Islands and will continue to respect that position as we do the position of all the partners.”