big dams following a successful salmon protection campaign
The Salmon Atlas, April 4, 2012
The Icelandic Government has accepted NASF's objections to a new
hydro-lectric generating scheme on Iceland's biggest river and suspended
the plans to build three dams to power generation plants. NASF had urged
the Government to adopt a precautionary approach to proposals by
Landsvirkjun, Iceland's biggest power company, to harness power from the
river Thjorsá. A proposal to this effect will now be presented to the
The Thjórsá, the country's biggest river system, originates in the
mighty Hofsjökull glacier in the middle of Iceland. It hosts Iceland´s
biggest sustainable wild salmon stock and also holds brown trout, sea
trout and some char. Nearly 90% of the natural fish habitat in the river
lies above the Urridafoss waterfall and revolutionary changes were
proposed to the flow of the river. NASF warned the government that this
would create huge losses of habitat and nursery areas for juvenile salmon.
Using taxpayers cash the power company, has invested heavily in the
projects but had failed to fully assess the colossal damage to the
natural environment that could be caused. It had also failed to consult
with the river owners and merely cited the "Columbia and Snake rivers in
the Northwest United States as evidence of their good intentions. Twenty
years ago the river owners around Thjórsá negotiated a deal that
provided them with a fish ladder at the Buda waterfall. It appears to be
reasonably successful but many of the river owners say it is just a
start to huge salmon enhancement activities envisoned for the whole
Over the last decade or so Iceland river catches have doubled and
trebled following the strict protection and enhancement schemes that
progressive angling operators and river owners in Iceland have
introduced. These include conservation deals in the marine environment,
coastal nets buyouts, catch-&-release, carefully focused stocking
projects and a variety of other innovative enhancment work.
Orri Vigfusson, chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) says
that schemes like the now-suspended Thjórsá plan should be an
international issue and be related to climate changes. "As glaciers
shrink the snow melt from which many rivers spring will reduce. As sea
levels rise, salination of the lower reaches will increase" he said.
Far from building new dams we need to accelerate their removal. In the
last ten years only 410 American dams were removed and there are 84,000
more. Demolishing big obstructions like hydro dams will improve natural
river flows and the production of feed and oxygen for the fish, mammals
and invertebrates that live in or around a river. Hopefully marine life
will also stand to benefit.
In Maine, the 160-year-old Edward Dam was removed from the Kennebec
River in 1999 and today the river boasts a thriving and diverse fishery.
Undamming the Elwha river in Washington is expected to boost its salmon
population from 3,000 to 400,000 and this will attract bears, eagles and
other wildlife that thrived before the river dams were built in 1914.
NASF is currently supporting plans to remove dams obstructing wild
salmon runs in the Sélune river in the Mont-Saint-Michel area of
Normandy in France. It is also supporting an Atlantic Salmon Federation
project to remove the dams on the Penobscot river in Maine that would
open up a thousand miles of new salmon habitat.
In submitting its biological and environmental assessment, NASF sought
the advice of Dr Margaret Filardo, Fishery Biologist and Michele DeHart,
Manager of the Fish Passage Center in Oregon. A host of Icelandic
experts including the Thórsá river board have advised and participated
in the NASF assessment of this project.
"We now need a few years to explore the real opportunities the Thórsá
river system can offer," Orri Vigfusson said. "Our focus will be on the
salmon stocks and we shall use the vast expertise our worldwide teams
have amassed over the last 20 years. We hope to develop a master plan
for a massive salmon enhancement programme throughout this uniquely
productive water system. Simultaneously we shall need to develop angling
programmes and encourage eco-tourism and a host of other projects that
will create new jobs and new income revenues for the local population
that live beside this huge river."
The North Atlantic Salmon Fund, NASF, is an international coalition of
voluntary private sector conservation groups who have come together to
restore stocks of wild Atlantic salmon to their historic abundance.
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