Iceland’s salmon success story continues in 2010 with sport fishers enjoying the best opening of the season for decades. In just five years the national annual wild salmon catch has doubled its long term average and twelve or more rivers enjoyed record salmon catches last year

Rivers like Haffjardará, Blanda, Thvera, Laxá in Leirársveit, Selá, Midfjardará, Vididalsá, Rangá and Hafralónsá have all opened their seasons with glorious runs of fish and are recording daily rod catches, like in the glorious 1970s, of between five and ten salmon. The rivers yet to open also appear to be well stocked with early salmon. The salmon have been in truly excellent condition as well. Arthur Bogason, who chairs the Icelandic Small Boat Association, is not surprised. He says: “There is food galore for salmon and other fish around Icelandic shores these days because we stick to good practical principles and have common sense priorities for our recreational and commercial harvests. We have bountiful lumpfish stocks and the cod population is building up fast all around the coastline.”

The Russian Ambassador to Iceland illustrated the strength of the runs of migratory fish after he ceremonially opened the river Fljotaa’s fishing season. He quickly proceeded to take a bounty of beautiful char and lost a gigantic salmon!

“There is no magic behind the arrival of these healthy salmon runs,” comments Orri Vigfússon, chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). “It is simply a question of getting your management priorities in the right order and allowing free passage for the salmon throughout its life-cycle. The last thing that anyone should do if their salmon stocks are in decline is to decimate the surviving fish by making them run the gauntlet of a barrage of nets. Follow these rules and you will enjoy the benefit of what nature does best, the generous production of shining silver salmon.”

The prime objective of NASF is to return Atlantic salmon stocks to their former abundance throughout their historic range. This is in stark contrast to many river management plans that only aim to maintain minimum survival levels of spawning populations. Only by abundance can salmon stocks thrive and enhance local economies by attracting anglers from far and wide.

The salmon is an iconic fish and this bar of living silver should be a national treasure. To bring stocks back to abundant levels, NASF believes that all interceptory mixed-stock fishing of salmon must be stopped without harming the netsmen by completing fair commercial compensation deals with them. Such agreements now cover about 85% of the entire salmon range throughout the North Atlantic, principally on the high seas. Sadly, the authorities in Norway and Scotland are still promoting salmon netting.

The inevitable outcome of these outdated practices has just been demonstrated in Northern Ireland. There the Loughs Agency ignored all sensible advice and insisted on maintaining salmon netting in Lough Foyle. This has resulted in such poor returns of fish that the management of salmon has now been taken away from the Agency and an immediate netting ban imposed for the next five years.

Excessive exploitation is a massive threat to salmon but other man-made problems like fish farms, dams and the removal of marine food by industrial fishing have all played a part in its decline. Iceland leads the way in managing and minimising these man-made effects and is now reaping the rewards for its efforts. Last year many of the best-known Icelandic rivers broke their previous salmon catch records. Whilst it is still early in the season it looks as if 2010 may well be another record year.

If other nations followed Iceland’s example we would at last see them take their responsibilities seriously and put simple safeguards in place. Then they would find that their salmon would once more flourish and an abundance of both salmon and anglers would soon be heading for their rivers.

For more details, maps of the salmon world, graphs comparing salmon catches in different countries and to see the first salmon from River Vididalsá in 2010 visit: North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). Helping restore Atlantic salmon to their natural abundance - Iceland's salmon season opens with bumper catches!