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Reflections on the decline in salmon fishing in the summer of 2012

Last summer was probably one of the worst salmon fishing summers anyone can remember. Of course explanations have been sought for this great decline and many found: A bad summer, cold weather, mackerels, whales, flounders and even cod, to mention a few. 

It is rather clear that this unfortunate situation is not because of any decline in spawning. The fact is that the spawning is good in most rivers. When the parr were counted in Vatnsdalsá late in August last year it showed unusually many. It also showed that the parr seem never to have been in better shape, as regards, length, weight and fat. Two year old parrs, that is parrs which have hatched in the spring and stayed two winters in the river have reached the size and girth of smolts so it looks like that the amount of nourishment and all other conditions are very good in Vatnsdalsá.

When the smolt swim to the sea they look for sea currents which bring them to their feeding grounds. The smolts find food and the right temperature in these currents and stay in the ocean for one or two years before they run back to the rivers as adult salmons.

An article in the “Journal of Fish Biology” (see link further down on page) discusses these currents the smolts swim in while in the ocean. There it says that every few years a big mass of fresh but cold seawater which holds little nourishment comes streaming from where it has gathered in the northern part of the ocean. This big current goes down the east coast of Greenland and down to Canada. The Gulfstream then moves it to Europe and to the coast of Norway until it ends back in the north where it increases until it circulates again. Other smaller currents diverge from this main current and go for example up to the west coast of Iceland, down the east coast and between the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Many think that when the smolts end up in this cold current which holds little nourishment, their stocks decline much further than usually.

Scientists call this mass of fresh but foodless water the Merry-Go-Round. No one has been able to ascertain when the Merry-go-round starts but all fishermen have known good summers and very bad summers. What we know is that the Merry-go-round goes past and then warmer currents follow and the fishing gets better.


It is tempting to think that this explains the decline last year. This cold and foodless current could also explain the large amount of small salmon. It has been established that in some rivers a lot of 4 to 5 pound salmon have been caught, which have been two years in the sea and therefore their length should be 80 cm or more.

Of all the theories I have heard about bad fishing summers I think this is one of the most rational. And taking this theory into account it’s obvious how important it is that the natural spawning habitat in the rivers is always as good as it can possibly be. We have done everything to ensure that here on the banks of Vatnsdalsá.


May the salmon run free,

Pétur Pétursson

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