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Quotas, seed potatos and the tragedy of the commons

Through many years, we've focused on henfish and a sustainable harvesting of fish in Lakselva. Since we're well into the International Year of the Salmon, and a new season is upon us, I want to discuss further why we've done what we've done, and offer some thoughts about the development we've experienced in Lakselva.

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Settepoteter... - Foto: Egil Liberg

For more than ten years now, we've had a major focus on quotas and the preservation of big henfish here in Lakselva. Quotas seem to be regarded as fair by most as an important and correct management tool. We tend to use an analogy from agriculture - eating the seed potatos during winter, leaves us with a small crop at fall. In Lakselva, the big henfish are our seed potatos.

Breaking the quotas and consequences

Our experience is that the very most of you respect the quotas set, but we also experience that it's not the case for everyone. Even though one breach of the quota won't topple our management model, it's the sum of several breaches that may be critical. 20 big henfish in Lakselv can easily be 300 kilos of spawners, which again is close to 10 % of our total spawning target. The classical idea of the tragedy of the commons, is an easy comparison in this matter. We're not ashamed to call a breach of quota selfish, and we're happy that we see fewer and fewer of these cases. It's highly unfair to the majority of fishermen playing by the rules, that some choose not to. 

Settepoteter - Foto: Egil Liberg

An improving salmon stock

At the beginning of this decade, Lakselva had both areas where fishing was prohibited, and the killing big salmon was prohibited in August. Limiting the harvest of big fish, has made us able to restore and increase the salmon population in Lakselva, and there are no longer areas where fishing is prohibited, nor is there a ban against killing fish in August. Especially this latter part makes it possible for our fishermen to get a fish for the table, even though you haven't succeeded, or had the possibility, early in the season.  Our salmon stock has developed into such a robust state, we've also decided to increase the seasonal quota from three to four big fish.

Having said this, the big female fish are often multiple spawners, carrying loads of hardy eggs and future salmon. They represent a gene-pool we are very keen on keeping, so think twice before you kill one of these big ones, even though you are in your right doing so. There has been discussion regard our management model, but this common effort has lifted our salmon stock to a level far exceed what we saw in the beginning of the century, increasing the chances of catch.

Emotions and facts

When introducing quotas, catch and release becomes a natural part of the discussion. Catch and release has been, and continue to be a disputed topic, and I feel many of these discussions are characterized by emotions and personal theories. No doubt, salmon fishing is a lot of feelings, but we should be careful not letting them over-shadow available facts and science. In an attempt to refute some of these theories, we have through several occasions taken part in research projects highlighting catch and release, focusing especially on survival and behaviour. Most of the knowledge gathered through these projects are summed up in the project SalCaRe, as you will be able to read more about by clicking here.

The results from the project was quite conclusive, showing that most salmon survive catch and release - assuming the guidelines given are followed, and the salmon is treated as gently as possible. The debate regarding catch and release has mainly focused on two main elements - 1) mortality and the physiological effect, and 2) the ethical/moral aspects. I will not be the judge what is more ethical or moral than the other, but I do think it's rather conspicuous that this debate starts out being about the well-being of the salmon, and ends with how we as humans decide to make use of it. Somewhere along that road, it seems focus shifts from the well-being of the salmon, into the well-being of us humans. Anyhow, the common denominator in the debate seems to be a love for salmon, and a wish to keep it also for future generations - the disagreement is rather based on how we reach those goals.

Et tidligere bidrag til gjenutsettingskonkurransen, som resulterte i at fiskeren vant et sesongkort.

The catch and release-contest

In conclusion I want to mention our catch and release-contest which was introduced in 2008. It has been a major contributor in focusing on our "seed potatos", and creating a bigger understanding why we have focused as much on catch and release as we have done. The 11 years this contest has been going, roughly 37 tons of salmon has been released. Estimating an average weight of 8 kilos, this constitutes more than 4 600 individual salmon. That is an amazing amount of fish, and naturally a very important contribution in Lakselva's development, and the achievement of our spawning targets for twelve years in a row. The contest will of course continue also in 2019.

With these thoughts and ideas, I wish you all another great salmon season - may your rods bend, memories be made and your stories become wilder than ever!