HALIFAX - Conservationists and politicians have condemned a unilateral decision by Greenland to continue fishing wild Atlantic salmon off its coast, saying it will further imperil the migrating stock that is at record lows.
Officials from federal fisheries departments in Canada and the United States said they were disappointed with the 45-tonne quota set by Greenland for this year and the next two at a North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization meeting last week in Labrador.
In separate statements, they said the catch level is too high and goes against scientific advice that recommends no salmon be caught off Greenland's west coast while the population tries to rebuild.
Bill Taylor, president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said the decision also conflicts with the stated wishes of many member nations and conservation groups to stop the harvest or dramatically reduce it.
Taylor, whose group presented at the annual gathering, said it could mean fewer wild fish return to their spawning grounds in Canadian and U.S. rivers after feeding off Greenland.
"It could be devastating," he said Tuesday. "The one thing that we could do right away that will have a positive impact right away is to stop killing so many fish and Greenland is at the top of the list."
No one from Greenland's fisheries department was available for comment.
Figures released by the salmon federation indicate that Greenland caught 63 per cent of a certain type of salmon that spent two winters off its coast, while Canada harvested 35 per cent of them.
Greenland expanded its kill of wild Atlantic salmon to 58 tonnes last year from 47 tonnes in 2013, a level conservationists say far exceeds sustainability for the species.
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea says the number of adult salmon in North America last year dropped 13 per cent from the previous year.
"With fewer than 500 Atlantic salmon returning to U.S. rivers in 2014, it is critically important to do everything possible to reduce the threats to U.S. salmon," Daniel Morris, head of the U.S. delegation, said in a statement.
Taylor said a compromise would have been a subsistence fishery of no more than 20 tonnes to help meet Greenland's demand for fish to feed its population.
Canada's Fisheries Department took the rare step last month of prohibiting the retention of any wild salmon in the Maritimes after rivers were found to have very low returns of fish.
NASCO, which also includes Norway, Denmark and Russia, sanctioned new monitoring and reporting measures to be implemented by Greenland.
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