New research from WWF shows that stocks of this species have plunged to their lowest ever levels. The wild Atlantic salmon, which spawns in freshwater but spends much of its life at sea, could be bound for extinction if current trends continue. In North America, the number of large salmon returning to their native rivers has dropped by 90%; the species has disappeared from more than three-quarters of Baltic rivers in the last 100 years; and catches of salmon in Scotland and Ireland are down to roughly 25% of what they were three decades ago.
"More than 300 rivers have already lost their wild salmon stocks, and each year more rivers lose their salmon or show signs of rapidly decreasing spawning populations," said Henning Røed, WWF-Norway, who is coordinating WWF's research. "The causes of the decline are diverse - but they are all man-made."
Dams and other river engineering works block the salmon's passage to suitable spawning grounds. Industrial, domestic and agricultural pollution destroys clean habitats. Farmed salmon, of which almost a million escape each year in Norway alone, are a risk to wild salmon because they spread diseases and parasites that can kill wild populations. Wild stocks can also be weakened by interbreeding with farmed stocks, and the possible introduction of genetically-modified salmon in fish farming could eventually wipe out wild stocks altogether.
NASCO assesses the status of wild salmon populations and develops policies, including fishing quotas, designed to protect them. WWF strongly urges NASCO members next week to follow the advice of scientists and adopt all necessary measures to restore runs of wild Atlantic salmon. That means governments, river basin managers and other stakeholders must take immediate action to enhance and restore wild salmon populations - including removing obstructions to passage, reducing pollution, and improving the state of water and wetland habitats, by taking an approach that focuses on the entire river catchment.
"NASCO countries must institute catch limits based on scientific recommendations, and close mixed-salmon fisheries that adversely affect endangered salmon stocks," added Henning Røed. "It's vital for them to adopt standards for responsible salmon fish farming that stop its negative impact on wild stocks, and to oppose the introduction of genetically modified salmon."
A WWF report with a detailed country-by-country overview of the status of the Wild Atlantic Salmon, and priorities for action, is currently being prepared for release in the autumn.
For further information:
Mark Vanderbeeken, WWF European Freshwater Programme: tel +45 3524 7841; mobile +45 2124 8747; email firstname.lastname@example.org
or Henning Røed, WWF Norway: tel +47 22 03 6519; mobile +47 9508 3721; email email@example.com