SI Vault
Clive Gammon
December 15, 1969
Everything is fresh and fragrant in Denmark, but something rotten is going on in the waters off Greenland, where Danes are decimating vast schools of migratory Atlantic salmon
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December 15, 1969

The Danes Scourge The Seas

Everything is fresh and fragrant in Denmark, but something rotten is going on in the waters off Greenland, where Danes are decimating vast schools of migratory Atlantic salmon

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The Canadian and British scientists who for the past four years have been working in the freezing seas off West Greenland recognize this. What they are now trying to do is to catch salmon in the same waters as do the netmen and to tag them in the surer hope that anglers and commercial fishermen in the salmon-producing countries will return tags from mature fish.

The difficulty is that net-caught salmon rarely survive the experience, since they shed their scales so easily. Arthur Swain, the leader of the British team, told me in October that racial differences between salmon originating in different countries were being investigated as a surer means of determining the origins of salmon caught off Greenland.

It is the kind of minute investigation that in ordinary times would stay buried in Ph.D. theses, of interest only to a tiny minority of scholars. But the survival of the Atlantic salmon may depend upon the remorseless piling up of proof of where the Greenland salmon come from.

The only important salmon-producing country that seemed to remain unthreatened by Danish netting was Norway. But the reprieve lasted only until 1967. In that year another high-seas feeding ground of the Atlantic salmon was discovered off the cost of northern Norway, well outside territorial limits. There also the Danes moved in. Last year 23 Danish, 16 Swedish, one Faroese and several Norwegian fishing boats were operating on the Norway grounds. They caught more than 360 tons, a large percentage of the Norwegian spawning stock. Now the great rivers of Norway—the Namsen, the Alta, the Driva—were being threatened in the same way as were those of Scotland and Canada.

Last year yet another point of high-seas ambush was discovered and exploited by the assiduous Danes, when they intercepted the sea journey of the salmon off the Faroes. No figures have yet been published for this new fishery, but Scottish- and Swedish-tagged salmon have been recovered.

Nations have gone to war over salmon, or very nearly so. One cause of the 1904 Russo-Japanese War was the desire of the Japanese to move in on the rich, salmon-bearing waters off Siberia. When they won the war this is just what they did. No one has yet suggested, except maybe late at night in Scottish fishing pubs, that the salmon-producing countries should declare war on Denmark. But this much is sure: the international reputation of Denmark is at its lowest point since the Viking ancestors of the present Danes hacked their way around Western Europe putting cities and cathedrals to fire and sword.

This year has seen two broadly mounted attempts to bring international pressure on Denmark, after she had declined an invitation to attend an informal conference in London last April.

At a meeting of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission that followed a month later in London, a U.K. proposal for a ban on high-seas salmon fishing in the Atlantic received the required two-thirds majority, only Denmark, West Germany and Sweden voting against. The following month the International Commission for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries met in Warsaw. This time Canada proposed the high-seas ban, and once again a two-thirds majority was achieved. Only Denmark and West Germany voted against.

The cheers that greeted these decisions were premature. Because of their milk-and-water regulations, neither body can impose its decisions on objecting member states, and the Danes have officially rejected the resolution.

The Germans, the Swedes and the Danes are Baltic, not Atlantic, oriented. All three fish salmon commercially in the small, easily controlled Baltic Sea. The fear, certainly, of Sweden and Germany is that an Atlantic ban might make a precedent for a similar ban in the Baltic. Germany, like Denmark, produces no Atlantic salmon. As a bitter British fishery expert said recently, both countries are in the happy position of milking a cow they neither own nor feed.

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