When you catch a salmon in Iceland, Scotland, or Norway, you should raise your glass at the end of the day and toast Orri Vigfússon, because it’s likely he played an important role in your success. Vigfússon did more to conserve and enhance North Atlantic salmon stocks than any other single person. Vigfússon passed away July 1, 2017 at Iceland’s national hospital in Reyjavik due to lung cancer. He was 74. The funeral service will be held in Reykjavík at Hallgrímskirkja, July 10.
Vigfússon grew up fishing his home river the Fljótaá and other northern rivers, and in the 1980s he became alarmed that once-plentiful wild salmon populations throughout the North Atlantic were rapidly disappearing.
In response, Vigfússon founded the Iceland-based North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). Since 1989, the
organization with its partners has raised and spent $50 million buying out the nets of commercial fishermen in
the important salmon feeding grounds near Greenland and the Faroe Islands. These “mixed stock” commercial
fisheries were crushing open-ocean salmon populations, but thanks to Vigfússon’s fundraising and his negotiation
skills with netters and longliners, he pioneered one of the most important and successful fisheries conservation
projects the world has known. Vigfússon’s efforts are a win-win on all fronts. The NASF pays commercial fishermen to stay home, and also assists them in finding alternative employment so that when the temporary agreements end, there’s no financial reason to go back to pulling nets.
According to NASF estimates, open-ocean netting in the Atlantic has dropped by more than 85 percent in
the last 15 years and more than 12 million North Atlantic salmon have been saved from harvest. Vigfússon also
brokered similar buyouts or moratorium agreements in Iceland, Wales, England, France, Ireland, Northern Ireland,
Scotland, and Norway. Vigfússon today is still working continuously toward his ultimate goal: to stop all ocean
harvest of salmon in the North Atlantic, and return salmon to their natural abundance.
The NASF’s most recent project is funding operation of the Peter Gray Hatchery in Maine in an attempt to
bring back Atlantic salmon on the East Machias River. For details, see “Raising Athletes,” on page 18 of the April-
May 2016 issue.