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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Through last summer and fall, as it began to be realized that Denmark was refusing to accept the decisions of the international fishery bodies, anger grew, in Canada and Britain especially. Britain imports a considerable amount of Danish butter and pork products, and there was a strong outcry for a boycott of these goods. The Field, which had continued to document the growth of the high-seas fishing, was accused of pussyfooting because it wouldn't sponsor a public boycott campaign, believing, it said, that such matters should be settled in friendship between reasonable people.

But if The Field took this tone, other British publications did not. The outcry became so great that in July, Erling Kristiansen, the Danish ambassador in London, issued a long defensive statement that attempted to blame the sudden decline in salmon stocks on any cause but the high-seas netting. His Excellency, of Course, was not the author of the statement. It had been prepared for him by the Danish Ministry of Fisheries, which had sent the Danish delegation to London and Warsaw.

The arguments were identical with the ones that were put to me last summer in Copenhagen. Full scientific proof, it was claimed, had not been forthcoming that Danish netting had caused the decline in salmon runs. The Danes were hurt that the accusation was made, and judgment passed, without this proof.

It is known that off Greenland in 1967 and 1968 at least 800,000 salmon were killed that were not known to breed anywhere except in North American, British, Irish and Norwegian waters. What would happen, I asked a Fisheries spokesman, while we waited for complete scientific proof?

"I cannot foresee what will happen in the future," he said.

The Danish fisheries people would like to blame UDN, a disease that has plagued British and Irish salmon for five years, for the decline in river catches. But the salmon has a five-year life cycle, and the great Scottish rivers did not become infected until 1967. The UDN effect is still to be felt, and there is anger that the Danes are using a natural disaster to support their case for continuing netting. When UDN first occurred there was a huge step-up of artificial salmon production in Britain to make up for losses. It is the harvest of this sowing that the Danes are reaping now.

The ministry spokesman also pointed to the example of the Baltic, where the Danes have been drift-net fishing for many years. There, he said, stable stocks had been maintained ever since 1945. He did not add that they originated almost entirely from smolts artificially bred by the Swedes and the Finns. In the Baltic the Danes cull half the total salmon catch, though they themselves, the spokesman admitted, do not contribute a single artificially hatched salmon.

He was perhaps too sophisticated to put to me some of the other defensive points that the royal Danish ambassador employed in his London statement.

How many salmon, it asked rhetorically, perish at the hand of nature?

Plenty, said The Field in its own reply. But not more than have thus perished in past years.

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