Kathryn Maroun’s What A Catch: The real Atlantic salmon story

Earlier this month, Cassandra Ogle read that Morgan Freeman died. And just like Cassandra, 60,000 people rushed to find out more about Morgan Freeman’s death — only  to find out it was just another sick Internet hoax. Ogle wrote, “Thought he died, Googled it and found it was a hoax. Man, who … jokes about that? There are some seriously messed-up people out there.”

The lessons here are that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet, and that some people like to draw attention to themselves by posting sensational and potentially harmful untruths.

It happens in the fishing world, too

A few weeks ago, an attention-seeking, self-described expert wrote that Atlantic salmon (AS) are not in decline and that organizations like the Atlantic Salmon Federation are only saying they are in decline to inflate demand in a hatched plan to support their own need.

“They like to fly in private jets and fish for free on AS rivers.” He went on to write that it is therefore acceptable for sport anglers to kill multi-season breeders because biologists like it when you do. They told him personally, he stated, “A number of rivers are stressed because of overabundance of AS, which impedes breeding.”

This man tried to add credibility to his trash talk by posting, “I’ve heard experts say,” but he didn’t name names nor have any actual quotes to back up his misleading statements from what would appear to most as fictitious experts. This is very damaging on a number of levels – some – people take what they see in print as gospel, and misinformation impedes positive cultural progress.

Last week, on Oct. 3, I had the great honor of introducing Orri Vigfússon at the Yale Club in New York City, as he received the Heritage Award from the American Museum of Fly Fishing, an honor bestowed by the Museum for Orri’s outstanding commitment to the sport of fly fishing and the natural resource.

Kathryn Maroun and Orri Vigfússon. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Maroun

Back in the mid-1970s it became sadly obvious that the Atlantic salmon population was half of its historic levels.

A press release, dated June 16, 2011, regarding the 28th North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) meeting in Ilulissat, West Greenland. stated, “ICES [International Council for the Exploration of the Sea] advice has remained constant since 2000; as pre fishery abundance of Atlantic salmon has slumped from historic levels of 4 million to presently around 1 million fish, there should be no commercial exploitation of stocks. ICES also states that mixed stock fisheries present particular problems for salmon management, in that they exploit fish from more than one river system, therefore making individual stock management impossible.”

Scary to realize that in a 30-year window, the king of all gamefish could spiral downward from 900,000 multi-sea winter Atlantic salmon returning to North American rivers to a dismal 200,000 by 2011, according to ICES and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

Steven J. Cooke and Ian G. Cowx wrote about the role of recreational fishing in global fish crises: “Failure to recognize the potential contribution of recreational fishing to fishery declines, environmental degradation, and ecosystem alterations places ecologically and economically important resources at risk.”

I can remember overlooking a pool in the Gaspé, Quebec, where gin clear waters held the entire breeding stock for that river, and thinking to myself: “Well this isn’t good.” They weren’t stacked in there like cordwood as in years past. That same scene was playing out over and over again on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as anglers returned to their favorite rivers, only to find that the majority of these majestic animals would not be returning.

Kathryn and Orri at the Yale Club in NYC.

An ordinary person would think, “Well, that’s sad, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” But Orri, being Orri, didn’t look to other people or governments to fix the problem – he just took action. Action came in the form of a foundation he called the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). This was the brainchild of an entrepreneurial spirit, a can-do personality, a leader, a dreamer, but most importantly, a doer.

Now we are not talking about saving something as sexy as a panda. Oh, no. Orri was going to try not only to save salmon, but also to change how the rest of the world perceived what was historically thought of as “dinner.” He was going to save the cold-blooded Salmo salar.

This attitude of “I just take one for the table” could spell the demise of the king of gamefish, but not on Orri’s watch. He is trying to change a culture and educate the public to the reality that these fish are far more valuable in the water than on the barbecue.

In his lifetime, he still feels the painful reminders from the fallout of the herring fishery collapse. For me, it was the cod fishery on the east coast of Canada that was fished dry. We owe it to the next generation to learn from history and not repeat the sins of the past.

In some countries, like the UK, Orri has bought out the commercial fishing nets; in others, like Greenland, Orri has created a fund that assists commercial salmon fishermen to target sustainable seafood, rather than the threatened Atlantic salmon – great first steps to allow Atlantics the opportunity to return to their natal rivers and reproduce. Orri and I believe that sport anglers should release all Atlantic salmon to allow the species to recover.

Most people believe that the decline of the fishery is due to commercial mismanagement of the resource, but it is in fact, “death by a million cuts.”

Since the agreement negotiated by the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and NASF, the commercial quota off Greenland has been approximately 25 tons annually, according to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation
Organization (NASCO).

Kathryn Maroun and the King, on the river in Iceland in July 2012. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Maroun

Sport anglers and First Nations peoples, over the past several years, have been killing approximately 50,000 to 60,000 Atlantic salmon a year. This number spiked to more than 80,000 in 2011, according to DFO statistics.

People are shocked when they see “25 tons,” but it will stop you cold when you learn that Greenlanders are harvesting 7,000 to 9,000 fish, but sport anglers and First Nations people, in 2011, killed up to 80,000 fish in North America alone, or approximately 140 to 150 tons.

Paul Knight stated at NASCO this year: “This just shows how home countries – specifically Norway, Scotland and England – must  regulate their own coastal mixed stock fisheries far more robustly than at present, with a committed target of complete closure. It sends out completely the wrong signals to Greenland and the Faroese that, while they are being asked to sacrifice their salmon fishing in the interests of conserving and restoring stocks, those same fish that were saved on their feeding grounds are being heavily exploited as they return to their natal rivers. It is unfair to Greenlandic and Faroese fishermen, and hypocritical of home water salmon managers sitting at the NASCO table.”

In my library, I have a collection of the “Atlantic Salmon Journal” – every edition since it was first published. The language of fishing has changed a lot since the first publication, but we are still talking about the very real decline of the storied Atlantic salmon. My last words to my fishing buddy Stan Bogdan (1918-2011) were “I’ll see you on the river.” And yes, I feel him with me, each time I go salmon fishing.

 The Atlantic salmon, in my view

Atlantics are so much more than just fish. They represent the seasons of our lives.

For me, there is nothing more sad, and for that matter worrisome, than a river devoid of fish. It is against the natural order of things, and was done by the hand of man in the name of greed and pride.

  • About Kathryn Maroun

    Kathryn Maroun is one of a handful of Canadian women to be certified as an FFF casting instructor. She is the award winning executive producer of What A Catch Productions. The 52 show series highlights Kathryn's fishing adventures from around the world. Kathryn exposes never talked about hazards of the sport, conservation, culture, as well as showcasing exotic game fish in her series. Her show first aired in the US before being internationally distributed. Kathryn is featured in the collection of two prominent museums for her significant contribution to the sport of fly fishing. Kathryn Maroun is the president and founder of Casting for Recovery Canada, past director of Trout Unlimited Canada and past member of the Canadian World Fly Fishing team. Along with creating a line of clothing for women at work in the outdoors, Kathryn has fished around the world and has a number of world record fish to her name. Today she dedicates her time to writing about her miss-adventures and enjoys telling her stories through keynote speaking opportunities. Kathryn is campaigning to create a more balanced playing field for women in the sport.


The Conversation

  • Cassandra Ogle says: March 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    And I am the mysterious Cassandra Ogle 🙂

  • Arch Pitcher says: November 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Great article Kathryn,keep up the top shelf work you do.Get well soon.

    • kathryn maroun says: November 26, 2012 at 9:42 am

      Thanks Arch
      I worry about the fish.Why do so many people who fish for the great Atlantics, not worry more about the slow but consistent decline?
      Together, we can turn this train around.
      Keep using your voice for conservation. We need a choir.

  • Noel Carr says: November 23, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Congrats to Orri on receiving his award at the Yale club in New York. His conservation work inspires us all to keep the salmon coming back to our natal rivers. Paul Knight as acting chair of our NGO group read out that opening statement into the record as Greenland fishermen protested outside our window. As the NGO for Ireland who sat at the Nasco table in Greenland last June 2011 it was a very clear message to Norway, UK and Ireland to cease commercial netting or they will resume. It would be great if you could do a ‘what a catch’ on Orri at home and around his North Atlantic salmon countries where most governments respect but fear him. You have to see how he operates and drives us all to 110% of our effort. Some great stories.

    • kathryn maroun says: November 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm

      Wow, you have my attention Noel. I would love to hear more. Orri is a force. I would be available anytime for just such a chat. Thank you for your post.

  • Roland d'Abadie says: November 13, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Right on target Kathryn, there is a lot of work to do if we have any chance to save the fishery. Yes, the fish in the picture was returned to hopefully return another day..

    • kathryn maroun says: November 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      What picture are you talking about Roland?
      I don’t see any fish picture posted with this blog

  • Bill Hartnett says: November 12, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post, well said and all true.

    • kathryn maroun says: November 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm

      It is a big worry Bill. What a mess. Climate change is also a big worry. Orri was talking about the fish not getting enough food and how it could be a link to climate change and over fishing.

  • jan says: November 11, 2012 at 11:01 am

    This couldn’t be stated better. Excellent!

  • fernando says: November 11, 2012 at 8:50 am

    thanks for your wonderful work kathrin just great

    • kathryn maroun says: November 11, 2012 at 8:57 am

      Thank you Fernando. It’s fantastic to have a home at the WON to share ideas. worries and hope with like minded people.

  • Jim Teeny says: November 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    A year ago last August I had the honor to meet and spend time with Orri. What a truly dedicated person he is. A very nice and kind person that has a true unselfish mission to save the Atlantic Salmon. It is my belief that my dear friend Orri will accomplish his lifetime goal.

  • Bill Bowers says: October 12, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Thanks to Kathryn Maroun for another terrific post on The WON! Efforts to save the Atlantic salmon benefit everyone on Earth whether they fish or not, and whether they know it or not.