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With the diabolical smile of one who hands a six-ounce martini to an alcoholic, Herr Thor Mowinckel gestures politely toward the water. "Please!" he invites you, and you wonder if somehow you have been slain in a righteous cause and the Valkyries of Odin have transported you to the special section of Valhalla reserved for anglers. You take the proffered rod, make a nervous, fumbling cast and the lure plops in the water only 30 feet out. But you do not retrieve it far. Momentarily, there is the beatific vision of a mob of thick-shouldered salmon fighting to get at it, then you are firmly into a 15-pounder.
Later, while one of his men is packing the fish neatly for you to carry home, Herr Mowinckel gestures at the water again. "The bigger fish are swimming deeper," he says. "Please!" You cast again, but the lure has no time to sink and it is snatched by an impudent 10-pounder. And when that fish is landed, Herr Mowinckel says "Please!" no more. It is all over. Withdrawal symptoms begin even before you are in the car and heading back to town.
Sensitive anglers should avoid Flogoykjolpo, an island 20 miles southwest of Bergen, Norway, where the rain it rain-eth every day and a scatter of yellow-lichened rocks protects the fjord mouth from the North Sea swells. For there, in two acres of sea fenced off by steel mesh in concrete, is a sight to unbalance all but the toughest-minded. Within the impoundment, lashing on the surface, sliding out of water like rigid, silver missiles, passing in shadowy hordes along the rocks on which you stand is an imprisoned army of Atlantic salmon—50,000 of them, according to Herr Mowinckel's estimate, muscular fish of the deep-bodied Norwegian strain up to 25 pounds and more.
They are very rarely fished for, though Mowinckel confesses that last year he fished all day with two friends and caught 400. "You start to get tired of it after about 100 fish," he says. It is good to know that satiety does come in the end. He and his friends must be the only men in the world who have ever reached this stage where Salmo solar is concerned.
But no one should begrudge him a moment of the pleasure that the species can bring him, or criticize the fact that these salmon are about the easiest targets in the angling world. For it seems entirely possible that we may owe the continued survival of the Atlantic salmon to the enterprise that Mowinckel and his colleagues are currently conducting. Mercilessly hammered by Danish commercial fishermen who discovered their high-seas migration route, and decimated by a mysterious virus in British and Irish rivers since the mid-1960s, the species has seemed in imminent danger. Now, for the first time, there is a gleam of hope.
The 50,000 salmon at Flogoykjolpo, and others like them at nearby Veloykjolpo, are farm animals, not wild fish. They have never seen a river and have migrated (if that is the word) only to an enclosure of the sea in plastic tanks. They were hatched on a fish farm in the Hardanger Fjord and took on the silvery coloration of smolts in only one year. (In the wild, salmon fry take from two to four years to reach this stage at which they migrate downstream to the sea.) Two years later they reached adult, marketable size—altogether in about half the time that it takes in nature.
This year, the firm of Mowi, Inc., of which Mowinckel is managing director, will produce about 100 tons of marketable salmon. Within four years they should be up to 500 tons, and this, together with the output of other Norwegian firms which also are experimenting with farms, mean that by 1975 Norway should produce about 1,500 tons of farmed Atlantic salmon, one-third more than her present high-seas catch and roughly one-eighth of the world catch.
And it is very unlikely that salmon farming will remain confined to Norway. Already the British firm of Unilever is setting up a plant in Scotland. Mowi itself has its eyes on the fjordlike coastline of southwestern Ireland, where sea temperatures are several degrees higher than in Norway and more favorable to quick growth. Similar developments are taking place on the present salmon-bearing coasts of North America.
As Mowi has already learned, farm-reared salmon have many advantages over wild fish. Quality control is easier. Last spring Mowi salmon fetched a better price on the Norwegian market than wild fish because they had a higher fat content—the "curd" so prized in well-conditioned fish. Cultivated salmon can also be legally sold at the smolt stage—as poachers will testify, grilled smolt is delicious—and Mowi anticipates a demand for small 12-inch salmon to be served individually to diners.
All of which is good news for gourmets but even better news for sportsmen. Within a decade it could well become uneconomic to hunt salmon in the wild, especially to make long ocean journeys in search of them: bacon for breakfast is now more easily arranged than in the days when it was necessary to first capture a wild boar. It seems that for once anglers can be unreservedly thankful for a successful industrial enterprise.