An Atlantic salmon makes its way to a holding tank at the Milford Dam fishway at Brookfield Energy in Milford in this 2015 file photo. U.S. salmon groups say they have signed a 12-year deal with Greenland’s commercial fisherman that will protect salmon from commercial nets and longlines and allow many to return to North American rivers, including the Penobscot and the St. John in Maine. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

In what’s being heralded as an essential step in Atlantic salmon conservation efforts, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund announced on Monday that they have signed a 12-year deal with Greenland’s commercial fisherman that will protect salmon from commercial nets and longlines and allow many to return to North American rivers, including the Penobscot and the St. John in Maine.

According to an ASF news release, the deal was reached after more than 12 months of negotiations, and was finalized on May 24. The new Greenland Salmon Conservation Agreement will be in effect from 2018 through 2029.

In addition, an agreement with officials from the Faroe Islands continues a suspension of commercial salmon fishing there that dates back to 1991.

Atlantic salmon in Maine’s rivers are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Even recreationally fishing for them in those rivers is prohibited. But off Greenland, adult salmon — some of which migrate there from Maine rivers — have traditionally been targeted by commercial fishing operations.

“Significantly reducing the harvest of wild Atlantic salmon on their ocean feeding grounds is meaningful and decisive, not only for salmon conservation, but also for global biodiversity and the health of our rivers and oceans,” ASF President Bill Taylor said in the release.

According to the release, under terms of the agreement the Greenland and Faroese delegations to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization will declare zero commercial quotas at June’s international summit in Portland. In exchange for that decision, the ASF and NASF will financially support alternative economic development, scientific research, and education initiatives focused on marine conservation.

That agreement essentially amounts to the ASF and NASF buying out the Greenland commercial fishery, according to Andrew Goode, the ASF’s vice president of U.S. programs, who works out of Brunswick. In an interview on Tuesday, Goode said because the agreement was a private one using private money, he wouldn’t disclose how much the ASF and NASF expected to pay. But he said there’s a formula that will be used.

“Basically they take the past quotas, take the number of fish in those quotas, multiply it by a market price and come up with a purchase price for each year of the agreement,” Goode said. “So it’s substantial. It’s not small, and we’ll be raising private funds to pay that annually for the next 12 years.”

A report by CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) indicated that considering the market price of salmon in Greenland and the average number of fish involved, the deal could be worth almost $4 million.

Recreational fishermen in the Greenland and Faroese fisheries will still be allowed a subsistence harvest. According to the release, the money needed to support the no-harvest agreements will be privately raised by the ASF and NASF.

Goode said there hasn’t been a deal with Greenland in place for several years, after the ASF opted out of a previous agreement because of concerns regarding the number of fish that were being taken by subsistence fishermen.

“A lot of [the subsistence catch] was unreported, and we couldn’t be sure if we were really getting any value for our money,” Goode said.

Under the new agreement, Goode hopes that will change.

“This time around we’ve been working on getting better reporting [of the subsistence fishery],” Goode said. “Every person has to be licensed, they have to record their catch, so we’re going to have a lot better idea of what the subsistence fishery is, and how many salmon it’s taking.”

According to the CBC story, the mostly indigenous fishing communities on the west coast of Greenland are still entitled by treaty to harvest 20 tons of salmon because the fish is a main component of their diet.

Goode does have a good idea of how many salmon a ban on commercial fishing could save immediately, though.

“The commercial part of that quota has been anywhere from 20 to 30 tons, anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 adult salmon,” Goode said. “These are the most important fish that are over there … the key spawning stock are the ones that have been over there for two winters.”

And the more fish that survive, the more are able to swim back to rivers here in Maine, which is important, Goode said.

The average lifespan of an Atlantic salmon is five years.

“While initially the agreement will save 6,000 to 9,000 fish, we think that will grow over time, because as the agreement kills more fish, there will be more fish at Greenland so we’ll be saving more fish in subsequent years,” Goode said. “

The NASF’s U.S. chairman said protection of adult salmon at sea is essential.

“The best way to save North Atlantic salmon is to reduce the number killed,” NASF’s Chad Pike said in the release. “The unique ocean environment surrounding Greenland and the Faroe Islands is where large, mature fish from over 2,000 rivers throughout North America are known to spend their winters feeding. These conservation agreements create sanctuaries for wild salmon at these critical habitats, which is a historic win for salmon conservation.”

Note: BDN publisher Richard J. Warren is past U.S. chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...