Urgent action required to prevent extinction of wild Atlantic salmon

The unique species, which is known for crossing the ocean to return to the exact location of its birth, has disappeared completely from at least 309 river systems, says a new study by conservation organisation, WWF.

The new report says that in the 2,005 rivers historically nurturing wild Atlantic salmon on both sides of the Atlantic, the wild fish have disappeared in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and is on the brink of extinction in Estonia, Portugal, Poland, the United States, and parts of Canada. Nearly 90% of the known healthy populations exist in only four European countries: Norway, Iceland, Ireland, and Scotland. In the remainder of the range, 85% of wild Atlantic salmon populations are categorised as vulnerable, endangered, or critical.

According to the study-team led by Henning Røed of WWF-Norway, the five major threats to these populations are: overfishing, which reduces stocks to below critical levels; dams and other man-made obstructions that impede salmon migration; river engineering projects that degrade habitat and alter natural ecological processes; pollution from industry and agriculture; and commercial salmon farming, which results in erosion of the gene pool through inter-breeding with escapees, and the spread of diseases.

Without decisive preventive measures, the decline of the wild salmon catches will continue, the study warns. Salmon catches in the entire North Atlantic fell by more than 80% between 1970 and the end of the 20th century, to stand at the lowest levels in known history, the researchers found.

WWF is calling on countries participating in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) conference in Galicia, Spain, from 4- 8 June, to take vital steps including a moratorium on certain types of fishing, and more effective watershed management, to ensure the salmon’s survival. “To save the wild Atlantic salmon, governments must restore rivers where the species is threatened or has disappeared and take action to protect those rivers still hosting healthy populations,” said Tom Grasso, WWF-US’s Director of the Marine Conservation Programme.

Commercial ocean harvesting of the species and the impacts of industry-farmed salmon on the wild salmon populations are among the issues to be discussed by member nations of NASCO.

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