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International Scientists Meet to Plan Salmon Recovery

22 February 2013

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - A team of 25 international experts on salmon biology are meeting at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Belfast to develop an action plan to protect wild salmon populations. The future of Atlantic salmon in many rivers, including some in Northern Ireland, will hinge on the ability to carry out successful restoration and recovery projects. The report to be produced by the scientists is therefore anticipated to be highly influential

An International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) working group has been set up to give an evaluation of previous and ongoing restoration and recovery projects for salmon. The ICES Working Group on Effectiveness of Recovery Actions for Atlantic Salmon (WGERAAS) meeting at AFBI will develop guidelines on how to conduct such projects in order to increase salmon numbers in rivers where populations are low and facilitate a reintroduction of salmon to rivers where the species is locally extinct.

The Atlantic salmon is generally considered to be threatened with extinction. At the 2011 Salmon Summit held in La Rochelle, France, the outgoing North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) Secretary, Dr Malcolm Windsor concluded, "Unless we adopt conservation measures identified during the Salmon Summit there is a real risk that southern stocks will become extinct by 2040".

In light of concerns about salmon numbers, various measures have been implemented nationally and internationally to conserve stocks, typically involving restrictions on commercial netting and restrictions on the take of fish in angling fisheries, such as "catch-and-release".

Another conservation strategy involves the restoration and rebuilding of stocks in rivers that have suffered a major or complete decline in salmon numbers. Such programmes usually consist of the removal of obstacles to salmon migration such as dams, restoration of degraded salmon habitat, reducing water pollution, and the stocking of hatchery reared salmon. Many of these projects have however been unable to stop the decline in salmon numbers, prevent local extinctions, or to re-establish self-sustaining salmon stocks.

Dr Dennis Ensing of AFBI said of the meeting: "Considering the lack of past success, a critical review of previous conservation measures is an important step towards more effective management of Atlantic salmon stocks throughout the species range"

The WGERAAS meeting will embark on a two year study to evaluate the lessons learned from past and present restoration and recovery projects for Atlantic salmon. From this evaluation a report will be produced to advise national and international salmon management on how to conduct restoration and recovery projects to maximise the chances of success.

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