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North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization Meeting Concludes: West Greenland Measures Disappointing

June 04, 2021

On Friday, June 4, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) concluded its 38th Annual Meeting (held virtually).

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) is an intergovernmental organization formed to promote the conservation, restoration, enhancement, and rational management of wild Atlantic salmon stocks in the North Atlantic Ocean. NASCO's members are Canada, Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland) (DFG), the European Union, Norway, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Representatives from a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also attended the meeting.

Participants discussed a number of matters critical to Atlantic salmon conservation and management, including a new regulatory measure for the mixed stock fishery that occurs off West Greenland. This fishery, which operates against the scientific advice, takes endangered U.S. origin salmon. As such, our highest priority during the meeting was to agree to a regulatory measure that reduced the catch in the fishery to the lowest possible level and ensured effective management and control.

While a new interim regulatory measure was adopted for the fishery off West Greenland, the United States is deeply concerned about many of its key provisions. In order to avoid allowing the fishery to operate outside of any international constraints, we stopped short of blocking consensus on this one-year measure. However, we expressed our extreme displeasure with several provisions including a 27 ton Total Allowable Catch (TAC), the failure to implement the required 10 ton reduction in the 2021 TAC to account for overharvest in 2020, and the lack of an overharvest payback provision applicable to any future overharvests. The European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom largely shared the U.S. concerns about the new regulatory measure. All indicated that the catch level was too high, especially without a requirement to ensure any overharvest of the TAC would be addressed. DFG, however, was not willing to change its position on the size of total TAC or the inclusion of the overharvest payback provision.

The new measure will maintain the prohibition on factory landings and exports of Atlantic salmon from Greenland, and require DFG to continue to implement previously agreed monitoring, control, and reporting measures. The new regulatory measure will apply to the fishery off West Greenland in 2021 only, and Parties agreed that they would meet before the 2022 NASCO annual meeting to continue discussions on the development of a longer-term measure. The United States looks forward to these discussions and to the adoption of a stronger measure at the 2022 NASCO annual meeting.

United States Closing Statement to the West Greenland Commission

38th Annual NASCO Meeting
June 4, 2021
Kim Damon-Randall, U.S. Head of Delegation to NASCO, Deputy Regional Administrator, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office

Over the course of developing the last two regulatory measures for the West Greenland fishery, the members of the West Greenland Commission (WGC) worked hard and in a spirit of cooperation to develop a multilaterally agreed management regime for the West Greenland fishery that enhanced fisheries management and accountability and improved reporting, resulting in more complete catch data and other information on the fishery. The United States came to the 38th Annual Meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) optimistic that an agreement could be reached on a new multi-annual regulatory measure that would build on the progress made in the last few years. Despite the efforts expended in two WGC intersessional meetings this year as well as during this annual meeting, we find that the Commission has lost ground.

We are extremely disappointed that the Commission was only able to agree a measure applicable to 2021 and that the 27 ton Total Allowable Catch (TAC) did not account for the 10 ton overharvest from 2020, as required by the 2018-2020 regulatory measure. The United States showed substantial flexibility to find a compromise approach that would work for Denmark (on behalf of the Faroe Islands and Greenland) (DFG) as did other Commission members. Unfortunately, DFG rejected every reasonable compromise suggestion made. Our governments have joined this Convention and agreed to cooperate to conserve, restore, enhance, and rationally manage Atlantic salmon. We are here, operating under this Convention, to negotiate agreements that take the concerns of all WGC members into account. Unfortunately, that is not what happened this week. Instead, the concerns and interests of four of the five members of this Commission were largely, if not entirely, ignored. There was no flexibility shown by DFG and no real effort to find common ground. This was both surprising and concerning, and we hope this is not how our relationship in NASCO will be defined in the future.

With regard to a TAC level for the West Greenland fishery, we consider that 27 ton is much too high. For decades, the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice has been that the aggregate stocks cannot support a fishery, and yet, for most of that time, the WGC has allowed a fishery to continue for internal use—local markets, institutions, and personal consumption. During this same period, U.S.-origin salmon populations have been at risk of extinction. As we have noted previously, we have never cited the fishery at West Greenland as the sole cause for the stock’s decline, nor solely responsible for its recovery. In fact, as reported to NASCO, the United States and other States of origin have invested significant resources—in dam removals, habitat restoration, stock support, and other activities—to ensure that wild salmon stocks are effectively conserved and managed. To give endangered U.S. salmon and other depleted stocks across the North Atlantic the best chance of continued survival and eventual recovery, we need to address all threats wherever they occur, including those from mixed stock fisheries. As expressed repeatedly throughout the meeting, we firmly believe that the 2021 TAC for West Greenland should be no more than 20 ton. Given the 10 ton overharvest in 2020, this TAC level would be in line with the application of the overharvest provision from the previous regulatory measure to which DFG agreed. We see no other option but to apply this binding obligation to reduce the following year's quota to the 2021 TAC because of the overharvest in 2020. DFG, however, has refused to honor its obligation to pay back its 2020 quota overharvest, which is very disappointing.

In addition to the overall level of the TAC for the West Greenland fishery, a key issue for the United States coming into this meeting centered on the quota overharvest payback provisions of the previous regulatory measure. We find it incomprehensible that DFG could not accept the continuation of that provision in a new regulatory measure. We appreciate the effort and resources that have been invested into the management of the Atlantic salmon fishery at Greenland. Even with those improvements, however, significant overharvest occurred in every year of the previous three-year regulatory measure. Given that DFG continues to struggle to manage the fishery within the allocated TAC, this provision is crucial to ensure overfishing does not take place on these endangered and depleted stocks. Since DFG has stated that it can and will respect the TAC, we note that means this provision would never be triggered. We fail to understand, therefore, why DFG cannot agree to retain the overharvest payback provision.   

We are aware that DFG feels that it has given as much as it can with regard to the management of the West Greenland fishery, and it has asserted many times that the people of Greenland are dependent on salmon fisheries. DFG has not, however, made a compelling case for a fishery in terms responsive to NASCO’s Convention and other basic texts with respect to the dependency of communities on salmon for subsistence needs. DFG insists on the support of NASCO and sanction for the West Greenland fishery, but has not fully embraced the Organization’s expressed and shared processes or principles to conserve, restore, enhance, and rationally manage Atlantic salmon. Despite the poor status of many of the stocks, DFG presses to take more fish.

Stocks in many areas of the North Atlantic are at or close to all time low levels of abundance, and U.S. stocks are particularly imperiled. It is indisputable that salmon from these stocks are caught in the commercial fishery off West Greenland. The United States remains steadfast in our commitment to ensure that Atlantic salmon are not extirpated from our waters and that, ultimately, we are able to recover this species. As in many other locations, salmon are of cultural and social importance to residents of the United States and to Native American Tribes. Not only are we working hard to connect salmon habitats in rivers, estuaries, and marine waters, but we are also trying to reconnect the people with this treasured resource. That said, Native American Tribes have not accessed wild Atlantic salmon for many years given its poor status. All NASCO Parties must fully consider the scientific advice and the Organization’s Convention and guiding principles, particularly the precautionary approach, when considering whether or not to authorize a mixed stock fishery. Enabling the continued overharvest of salmon populations to serve one country’s commercial fishery rather than supporting conservation measures in line with science to ensure the future of this iconic species, flies in the face of the NASCO treaty and other fundamental agreements. As we have noted before, this will ultimately undermine the ability of all fishermen to benefit from the resource over the long-term.

In closing, it is deeply disappointing and troubling that we have not been able to make the kind of progress the United States expected would be possible coming into this annual meeting. We cannot endorse the proposed one-year regulatory measure for the West Greenland fishery, but we will not block consensus and undermine its adoption either. We hope this Commission can find more common ground as it works over the next year to develop a new  measure for the West Greenland fishery that takes into account all Members’ concerns and more clearly recognizes the very poor status of many of the contributing stocks. 

Last updated by Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on October 27, 2022