Is it noble to kill?
Healthy, unpolluted Icelandic rivers have provided years of sport for fishermen here and overseas. It’s been good for the economy, as its created income for the significant percentage of farmers who own rivers and it´s been good for the salmon, who have found themselves protected by the government from the netsmen and polluters. They have been the perfect renewable resource and while America, France, Spain, Scotland, England and several other countries have seen a wholesale decline in their salmon stocks, Iceland can be proud of its achievement in bucking a global trend.
One global trend that the country should address as seriously is the matter of Catch and Release. While salmon runs have remained strong, the average catch has reduced from 40,000 fish per annum ten years ago to nearer 30,000 recently. More significantly the bigger fish, the mighty Stórlax which weigh over 20lbs, are far fewer and there are growing concerns that too many fish, particularly the Stórlax, are being killed. Warning bells are starting to ring.
Old guard vs. New
Now, Catch and Release, or Live Release as it is also known, gets fishermen around the world arguing long into the night. On one side is the old guard who will tell you that fishing is part of the hunter-gatherer´s gene: that to kill is not only noble, but an essential part of the chase. They will also tell you that there are more than enough fish around and that to catch a fish and then release it is to reduce a noble sport to a humanely unacceptable one of tormenting a fish with a hook and line before releasing it.
Then there is the new guard who say that to kill a fish that is on its way to spawn is unacceptable when numbers are in decline and that catching the fish and releasing it back to the wild is essential if salmon stocks are going to survive. The Rest of the World has gone Catch and Release, particularly Russia, America; where it is compulsory, and in most other countries where target release figures of at least 50% are being set by fisheries associations.
Here the old guard have been hard to move, and while the Reykjavik Angling Club, one of the most successful and organised of its kind in the world, has recently encouraged catch and release through awards and youth programmes, the country´s anglers have been slow to pick it up. Last year less than 3% of fish caught were released.
Most of the rivers are now closing after a 90 day season. The salmon have now changed colour from the bright silver of the spring and are now slack-bellied and heavy with eggs and milt (sperm), and their flesh has become virtually inedible unless smoked. The females carry over 3,000 eggs each. If they are caught they don´t have the strength to put up a good fight, so they are easily reeled in. At this stage the angler has to ask himself a question: Is it better for me to return this fish to the water so that it can breed for future generations, or do I take her and her 3,000 eggs out of the water so that I may have some smoked salmon and possibly a trophy on my wall?
The fact that the fisherman chooses at this stage in the season to kill what is the river´s future is beyond belief. Whatever the science or statistics, to kill a river´s brood stock is to be part of the species demise, wantonly destructive and jaw droppingly futile.
Clapton does it
Future salmon runs cannot be guaranteed, global warming and its effect on the salmon´s food supplies while at sea cannot be reliably predicted. Releasing fish plays an increasingly important part in this process. Experience in other countries has shown that once fish stocks start to decline their demise quickly spirals out of control. The Minister of the Environment, despite widespread opposition, was courageous enough last year to put a three year ban on ptarmigan shooting. Next year perhaps similar intervention to see the release of all fish as the spawning date approaches would make good sense, particularly if fisherman aren´t acting voluntarily.
Most visiting fisherman from the Prince of Wales to Eric Clapton are comfortable with catch and release, and now that many Icelandic children are seeing the light, isn’t about time their parents followed suit?
Reykjavík Angling club
p : 568-6050