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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Wild salmon fishing ban hits hard

Norwegian authorities’ decision last week to ban fishing for wild salmon in 33 of Norway’s rivers this summer has sparked both concern and complaints, and landed one local official in trouble. It’s also revealed how loopholes can be found for wealthy sports fishing fans like former football star David Beckham.

Wild salmon fishing in the river Nidelva that runs through Trondheim, before last weekend’s sudden ban took effect. PHOTO: Miljødirektoratet/Jarl Koksvik

There’s a long tradition of fishing for wild salmon in Norway. It’s also long been viewed as an exclusive sport for royals, top business executives, the rich and the powerful, from Norway’s own King Harald V to rock stars like Eric Clapton and, most recently, Beckham. He was spotted fishing along the famed Lærdal River in the mountains of Southern Norway earlier this week, even though it’s been restricted for years because of parasite problems and a severe drop in salmon stocks.

Norway’s King Harald is among those who’ve enjoyed fishing for wild salmon over the years, like here in 2017. Alarms over low catches, though, began ringing years ago. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff

It was the steep decline in wild salmon stocks so far this season that prompted Norway’s environmental directorate last weekend to immediately ban salmon fishing in 33 other rivers. Most of the rivers in Nordland, Troms and Finnmark in Northern Norway are still open, but most of those from Trøndelag south through Østfold are closed.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we halt salmon fishing,” said the top state official behind the ban, Ellen Hambro. “We know that summer salmon fishing is an important tradition and a great joy for many, but now every single salmon counts.” She added that there is “great risk for serious damage” to salmon stocks, which have also been under threat of infection from farmed fish escaping from production facilities along the coast and inside Norwegian fjords.

Ellen Hambro, leader of Norway’s environmental directorate, claims she had little choice but to halt salmon fishing from Trøndelag and south, with the exception of the area where Drammens River meets the fjord. PHOTO; Miljødirektoratet

Hambro noted that the catch so far this year is “well under half” that of recent years, despite river flow and water temperatures that should have led to plentiful stocks. The latest research from the state’s academic council for salmon management points to the effects of fish farming and climate change as posing the greatest threats to Atlantic salmon.

“We must unfortunately be prepared that climate change, in combination with other negative effects of human activity (like fish farming), can have serious consequences for nature steadily more often,” Hambro said. “These new restrictions are an example of that.” A new evaluation of wild salmon stocks in Northern Norway will be made in July, she added, noting that fish there often arrives later in the rivers than in southern portions of the country.

The ban was a huge blow to the landowners and river owners controlling fishing rights, local hotels and restaurants and everyone else collecting high fees from fishing enthusiasts who are willing and able to pay. “This was a sad, unexpected and shocking message to get,” said Anlaug Asbøll of the Namsen River’s organization of local land- and river owners. She told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she couldn’t understand why the authorities opted for closure even before mid-season evaluations were made.

Reports had already been published, however, of record low numbers of wild salmon being caught in central and southern Norway so far this season. Some rivers including the Tana in Finnmark had already been closed on a voluntary basis by those in charge, to preserve fish stocks. The national organization behind wild salmon fishing, Norske Lakseelver, supported the state’s decision, even though revenues of as much as NOK 1.3 billion tied to wild salmon may be lost. “This is a deeply tragic situation,” said the organization’s leader, Pål Mugaas, “but it’s about the destiny of wild salmon. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Wild salmon fishing also has long traditions among ordinary Norwegians, like those fishing along the Nidelva within the city limits of Trondheim. PHOTO: Miljødirektoratet/Jarl Koksvik

Fishing enthusiasts themselves were disappointed, including those who’d already paid thousands of kroner for transport, accommodation and fishing rights to be able to fish for salmon this summer. It remained unclear whether they’d be reimbursed, while some river owners were already calling for compensation from the state. The state agency Statskog, which manages and sells fishing licenses in several rivers under state control, reported that everyone who had bought licenses for salmon fishing through them would be reimbursed.

Newspaper Sogn Avis, meanwhile, was the first to report that former football star David Beckham and a group of friends were seen fishing this week in an area of the Lærdal known as “Old Pastor,” and later flying off in a helicopter. They reportedly were taking part in a program known as stamfiske, which involves a few days of wild salmon fishing with the catch sent live to a hatchery for artificial insemination of more salmon. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reports that those fishing can make so-called “donations” totalling as much as NOK 1.4 million this season to the organization Redd Laksen (Save the Salmon), which channels the money to the foundation Lærdal Elveieigarlag, which collectively owns the famed salmon river.

This summer, though, the program allowing limited wild salmon fishing was also halted by local authorities representing the state (Statsforvalteren i Vestland). When the Lærdal group that reportedly had already arranged for two periods of fishing for groups including Beckham’s suddenly faced rejection of their application for stamfiske, they were “shocked,” reported both Bergens Tidende and Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week.

Liv Signe Navarsete is a former leader of the Center Party and a former government minister, who later landed the post of county governor in Vestlandet. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

The rejection set off a flurry of activity earlier this month, resulting in the local Statsforvalter (County Governor) herself deciding to overturn her own colleagues’ ban not long before the first group of fishing enthusiasts were due to arrive. Critics pointed out that County Governor Liv Signe Navarsete is the partner of one of the owners of the Lærdal River. Her colleagues within the county governor’s office were not pleased that she’d overturned their professional decision to halt any fishing this summer, and now her impartiality is being questioned. Navarsete, a former leader of the rural-oriented Center Party and a former government minister, insists no conflict of interest was involved, but law professors at both the University of Bergen and University of Oslo suggest otherwise.

“Regardless of how the facts are represented, I think this is a situation that can weaken confidence in the county governor’s impartiality,” Jan Fridthjof Bernt, professor emeritus at the University of Bergen, told DN. Professor Eivind Smith could also understand that questions of possible conflicts of interest have arisen, and supported attempts for a formal evaluation of why Navarsete acted so quickly to reopen the river for limited fishing after all.

Norway’s government minister in charge of environmental matters, meanwhile, was meeting this week with other river owners affected by the wild salmon fishing ban. Andreas Bjelland Eriksen of the Labour Party noted how fish farming and climate change pose the biggest threats to wild salmon.

“The numbers we’re seeing now for wild salmon are a serious reminder about the dramatic changes that already have occurred and continue,” Eriksen told news bureau NTB. “This can be the weakest salmon season ever registered in Norway.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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