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Russia escalates salmon dispute

It sounds like the battle of David against Goliath: A few coastal fishermen in Norway’s Finnmark County trigger massive protest from Russia’s powerful Security Council.

The Security Council will confront Norway via the Russian delegation to the next intergovernmental meeting in the Commission on Economic, Industrial, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. The meeting takes place in Oslo in March next year.

Russia's Security Council is headed by former FSB-boss General Nikolai Patrushev.

Fishermen in small open boats have been net fishing for wild salmon along Norway’s Barents Sea coast for hundreds of years. Today, the fishery is more a family tradition and a cultural heritage than an important economic income for those with the right to fish. Salmon fishery takes place in a short early summer period.

Russia, however, are strongly against the Norwegian coastal net fishery of salmon. The valuable salmon that migrate from the Atlantic swims along the coast of Norway on way to rivers on the Kola Peninsula for breeding. Too many of them get caught in the nets and ends up at dinner tables in the villages in Finnmark, argues the Russian authorities.

Murmansk governor Marina Kovtun believes net fishing for wild salmon in Finnmark is a threat to the regions booming tourism.

“We have more than 100 unspoilt rivers and sport fishery has become an important part of our tourism. More and more Russian and foreign sport anglers visit our region. Wild salmon shouldn’t be killed by nets as there are plenty of other species of fish that are good for human consumption. It is also unpleasant to see salmon damaged by Norwegian fishing nets,” says Kovtun in a press-release issued together with the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF).

Salmon rivers on the Kola Peninsula have in recent years replaced Norway as the most expensive destination for anglers.

In a letter about the issue shown to BarentsObserver, Governor Kovtun writes that the Security Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Agency for Fisheries all agree to confront Norway with the wild salmon net fishing at the coming meeting in Oslo.

Norway is well aware of the Russian critics. In February, Russia’s Federal Agency for Fisheries sent a letter saying: “Coastal fisheries for Atlantic salmon in Finnmark, where salmon of Russian origin are intercepted, must be regulated by more restrict measures,” as reported by BarentsObserver.

 NASF Chairman Orri Vigfùsson says to BarentsObserver that his organization is delighted to get support. NASF has for years been campaigning for the closure of the net fishery in Finnmark because they believe it is one reason for the lack of salmon in many of Norway’s own rivers.

“The coast of Norway is now the world’s most dangerous place for wild salmon and the problems caused by the lethal bent netting are being exported to Russia,” says Orri Vigfùsson.

He is also worried about the growing number of licenses given in Norway for fish farms.

“The Norwegians license more and more fish farms that create an explosion of salmon parasites, diseases and pollution. They suffer mass escapes of farmed fish that wreck the distinct genetic makeup of the wild stocks by breeding with them,” Orri Vigfùsson argues.

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