People: An Upstream Battle

How a vodka czar is saving the wild salmon

By Kevin Friedl

Orri Vigfússon works hand in hand with the fishing community to protect salmon habitat. Photo courtesy of Randy Ashton.

Besides running the NASF, you also manage a successful vodka company, Icy Vodka. Has that experience helped you negotiate commercial agreements with the fishermen?
Absolutely. Last month in Copenhagen, we had a meeting with the leaders of the commercial salmon netsmen in the North Atlantic to discuss how to find markets for alternative species to fish, like lumpfish and snow crab. We have been very successful in generating a lumpfish industry and a market for lumpfish caviar, the “poor man’s caviar.”

What is it about salmon? People seem to respond to this fish in particular.
But of course. The salmon is one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. Salmon sportfishermen get very dedicated to this project.

How will you know when you’re done?
I would like to finish cleaning up Ireland and Norway and Scotland. Simultaneously, I would like to start this big project in [continental] Europe to restore the salmon stocks there. I probably won’t live long enough, but I would like to use the same policies for restoring the cod stocks of the world.

And in between all that, maybe you’ll get to do some fishing yourself.
I try to go fly fishing in July and August. Lots of my friends from across the world come and visit Iceland during those two months, so I get to meet them and fish with them and have fun. But in September, I’m back on the road, trying to raise money and negotiate agreements.

Are you optimistic about the future of the Atlantic salmon?
I am. We have had a breakthrough in Ireland, and what we can do now is start a major restoration program in Europe. A few hundred years ago, the river Rhine was the world’s biggest producer of wild salmon. They were almost completely eliminated, but there is now a restocking program and a few hundred salmon have entered the river system. The Rhine of course goes into Germany and France, all the way up into Switzerland.

You mean people used to fish for salmon in the Swiss Alps?
There used to be quite a good run up to the Schaffhausen Falls, near Zurich. This is our goal—to get them back there.

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Issue 25

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