NASCO 2020

Paul Knight reports on the 37th Annual Meeting of NASCO

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) met for its Annual Meeting in the first week of June, although this year, uniquely, all the meetings were held virtually by video link, with those not directly involved being able to listen in by phone.  Despite concerns that such a large international conference would be difficult to organise and run – it involved a Council and three separate Commissions – it actually went very smoothly, albeit with some of the more important issues, particularly from an NGO viewpoint, being postponed until Council is able to meet face-to-face, hopefully this autumn.

The main objective for the NGOs was to influence support for a full day Theme-based Special Session (TBSS) on salmon farming at next year’s Annual meeting.  This follows increasing concern right across the north Atlantic – and also the Pacific – that open-net salmon farming is the most damaging issue for wild salmon and sea trout that NASCO parties and jurisdictions actually have the power to do something about.  The NGOs were therefore delighted to receive unanimous support from all the Heads of Delegation for the TBSS in June next year, even agreeing to extending the meeting by a day if that is needed to accommodate the event.

The main concern driving the NGOs is that, despite NASCO resolutions going back at least 17 years, and a Council direction that open-net salmon farming should receive particular attention from relevant countries, the Implementation Plan process – the 5-year plans for salmon conservation put forward by each party and jurisdiction – clearly show a failure to protect wild fish from the adverse impacts of sea lice infestations killing migrating smolts, and escaped farmed fish interbreeding with natural salmon populations.  Two countries with significant salmon farming industries openly admit that they have no action to regulate sea lice emanating from open pen farms, while another has a national policy allowing 30% of wild salmon smolts to be killed before any serious regulation is considered.

So, the TBSS is a small but significant step along a very long road needed to turn around the juggernaut of political commitment so that appropriately effective regulations are introduced (in those jurisdictions where they are still absent) and are enforced rigorously to protect wild fish.  It is a sad admission that no country with both a salmon farming industry and wild salmon populations presently protect their natural fish stocks adequately enough.

Another pleasing aspect of this meeting was that, following several incidents last year when the NGOs felt they were being kept at arms’ length from important Council decisions, there were signs that our complaints had been taken onboard.  However, there are still serious issues to address for the NGOs at the autumn intersessional Council meeting, including:

  • The process for completing and reviewing the Implementation Plans – we want to see far more genuine commitment in these plans to protecting wild salmon, particularly from the harmful effects of salmon farming
  • An opportunity for NGOs to input fully to the upcoming external performance review, which will be an independent audit of NASCO’s performance since the previous review in 2012 in achieving its primary objective of protecting wild salmon.
  • Confirmation that NASCO is committed to a fully transparent process in all its work, including NGO access to and involvement in all Council and Commission decisions
  • Through our representation on the Implementation Plan and Annual Progress Report Review Group, NGO involvement in developing TBSSs for upcoming annual meetings
  • Following on the success of this virtual meeting, how much of NASCO’s work could be delivered in this way in future, so cutting down time and money resources in attending meetings, particularly those outside of the main annual event, which we agree should remain face-to-face under normal circumstances

In summary, therefore, a useful meeting where the NGOs achieved our main goal of a TBSS on salmon farming next year.  Much still to do and agree, and we now look forward to the face-to-face intersessional Council meeting in the autumn – provided we are able to travel again by then, of course.