Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System

North Atlantic Salmon fisheries
Fishery  Fact Sheet
NASCO Fishery Resources Reports 2021
North Atlantic Salmon fisheries
Fact Sheet Citation  
Owned byNorth Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) – more>>

Overview: The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) is an international organization, established by the Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean, in 1984. NASCO enables six Governments and the European Union to co-operate to conserve wild Atlantic salmon. The six Governments are: Canada, Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland), Norway, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. NASCO’s objective is to conserve, restore, enhance and rationally manage Atlantic salmon through international co-operation taking account of the best available scientific information.

Location of North Atlantic Salmon fisheries

Geographic reference:  North Atlantic
Spatial Scale: Regional
Reference year: 2021
Approach: Jurisdictional

Jurisdictional framework
Management Body/Authority(ies): North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO)
Area of Competence: NASCO area of competence

Fishing Activity
Fishery Area
Climatic zone: Polar; Temperate.   Vertical distribution: Pelagic.  

Geo References for: NASCO area of competence

Salmon fisheries occur in coastal, estuarine and fresh waters. There is considerable variability in the distribution of the catch among individual countries. In most countries, the majority of the catch is now taken in fresh water while the coastal catch has declined markedly. Catch statistics can be found on the NASCO website.

In 2019 NASCO published The State of North Atlantic Salmon Report. It highlights the unique life cycle of the salmon, provides information on salmon abundance, the pressures it faces, and gives examples of how these pressures are being addressed.
Prior to the 1960s, exploitation of salmon in the North Atlantic was at a national level. The subsequent development of fisheries at West Greenland and in the Northern Norwegian Sea meant that rational management could only be achieved through international cooperation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted and signed in 1982. Article 66 concerns the management of anadromous fish, such as the Atlantic salmon. It states (amongst other things):

  • in cases where anadromous stocks migrate into or through the waters landward of the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone of a State other than the State of origin, such State shall cooperate with the State of origin with regard to the conservation and management of such stocks; and
  • the State of origin of anadromous stocks and other States fishing these stocks shall make arrangements for the implementation of the provisions of this article, where appropriate, through regional organizations.

The Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean entered into force on 1 October 1983 and created an inter-governmental organization, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO). The Convention created a large protected zone, free of targeted fisheries for Atlantic salmon in most areas beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast. One immediate effect was the cessation of the salmon fishery in the Northern Norwegian Sea which at its peak in 1970 harvested almost 1,000 tonnes of salmon.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, NASCO acted through diplomatic initiatives to address fishing for salmon in international waters by vessels registered to non-NASCO Parties. There have been no reports of such activities since. While NASCO’s initial focus was on developing management measures for the distant-water fisheries at West Greenland and the Faroe Islands, it is widely accepted that conservation and restoration of salmon stocks cannot be achieved by these measures alone. NASCO has broadened its base and now addresses a wide range of issues including management of salmon fisheries by States of Origin, habitat protection and restoration and aquaculture and related activities. Resolutions, Agreements and Guidelines have been developed in each of these topic areas.
Ecosystem Assessment
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) continue to advise NASCO that salmon fisheries have no, or only minor, influence on the marine ecosystem. The exploitation of salmon in freshwater may affect the riverine ecosystem through changes in species composition. There is limited knowledge of the magnitude of these effects (CNL(21)11).
Jurisdictional framework
Mandate: Conservation, restoration, enhancement and rational management of salmon stocks subject to the Convention, taking into account the best available scientific evidence.  
Area of Competence: NASCO area of competence
Maritime Area: Atlantic Ocean north of 36º N throughout the salmon’s migratory range.

NASCO’s goal is to promote the diversity and abundance of salmon stocks and maintain all stocks above their conservation limits. The key issues are to:
  • maintain an effective prohibition on fishing for salmon beyond areas of fisheries jurisdiction;
  • further improve the ‘fairness’ and balance in management of distant-water fisheries;
  • explore possibilities for longer-term regulatory measures;
  • exchange information and transfer expertise and knowledge between Parties and between NGOs and the authorities; and
  • further develop the knowledge basis for fisheries regulations.
NASCO has three Commissions: the North American Commission; the North-East Atlantic Commission; and the West Greenland Commission. The NASCO Convention states that one of the functions of the West Greenland Commission and the North-East Atlantic Commission is ‘to propose regulatory measures for fishing in the area of fisheries jurisdiction of a member of salmon originating in the rivers of other Parties’.

This has meant the negotiation of regulatory measures that have greatly reduced the catch of salmon in the distant-water fisheries at West Greenland and around the Faroe Islands. There has been no commercial harvest by the Faroe Islands since the early 1990s and the Greenland fishery is currently an internal-use fishery.
Negotiation Process
Article 9 of the Convention details the factors to be taken into account in establishing regulatory measures as follows:
  1. the best available information, including advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and other appropriate scientific organizations;
  2. measures taken and other factors, both inside and outside the Commission area, that affect the salmon stocks concerned;
  3. the efforts of States of origin to implement and enforce measures for the conservation, restoration, enhancement and rational management of salmon stocks in their rivers and areas of fisheries jurisdiction, including measures referred to in article 15, paragraph 5 (b);
  4. the extent to which the salmon stocks concerned feed in the areas of fisheries jurisdiction of the respective Parties;
  5. the relative effects of harvesting salmon at different stages of their migration routes;
  6. the contribution of Parties other than States of origin to the conservation of salmon stocks which migrate into their areas of fisheries jurisdiction by limiting their catches of such stocks or by other measures; and
  7. the interests of communities which are particularly dependent on salmon fisheries.

Status of Management
Details of the NASCO regulatory measures/decisions are available at

Regulatory Measures

Regulatory measures around the Faroe Islands have been agreed by the North-East Atlantic Commission in most years since NASCO’s establishment. These have resulted in greatly reduced allowable catches in the Faroese fishery, reflecting declining abundance of the salmon stocks. There has been no commercial salmon fishery since the early 1990s. No fishery for salmon has been prosecuted at the Faroes after 2000. All regulatory measures related to the Faroese fishery can be found here: Faroese Salmon Fishery Measures - NASCO

Regulatory Measures at West Greenland have been agreed by the West Greenland Commission for most of the years since NASCO’s establishment. These have resulted in greatly reduced allowable catches in the West Greenland fishery, reflecting declining abundance of the contributing salmon stocks. In all but two years since 1998, the fishery has been restricted to an internal-use fishery and commercial export of salmon is not permitted. In 2021 Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland) agreed to restrict the total allowable catch for all components of the Atlantic salmon fishery at West Greenland to 27 metric tonnes. Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland) also agreed not to carry forward any under harvest into a future year. All regulatory measures related to the West Greenland fishery can be found here: West Greenland Salmon Fisheries Measures - NASCO
Management Methods
NASCO has adopted Resolutions, Agreements and Guidelines that address the Organization’s principal areas of concern for the management of salmon stocks. In 2005 it was agreed that ‘NASCO will be committed to the measures and agreements it develops and actively review progress with implementation plans’ (CNL(05)49).

Each jurisdiction therefore develops Implementation Plans detailing measures to be taken over five year periods in relation to three areas of concern: Management of salmon fisheries; Protection and restoration of Atlantic salmon habitat; and Management of aquaculture, introductions and transfers and transgenics. Implementation Plans are the key documents in the third and current reporting cycle. They are focused around the three theme areas and emphasise:
  • the actions to be taken over the period of the Implementation Plan (2019 – 2024);
  • clearly identifiable measurable outcomes and timescales; and
  • appropriate monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken.
Annual Progress Reports are the primary medium through which NASCO is able to assess progress towards the achievement of its Resolutions, Agreements and Guidelines. Parties / jurisdictions report on their activities through the provision of:

  • any changes to the management regime for salmon and consequent changes to the Implementation Plan;
  • actions that have been taken under the Implementation Plan in the previous year; 
  • significant changes to the status of stocks, and a report on catches; and
  • actions taken in accordance with the provisions of the Convention.

All implementation plans and annual progress reports in the current reporting cycle can be found here: Third Reporting Cycle - NASCO


Marine Science

The International Atlantic Salmon Research Board (the Board) is a body, established by and reporting to the Council of NASCO, to promote collaboration and co-operation on research into the causes of marine mortality of Atlantic salmon and the opportunities to counteract this mortality. A range of marine science projects are co-ordinated and collated.

Through the European Union ‘Grants for an action’ programme, NASCO administers and is the financial co-ordinator for the SMOLTrack Projects. In this set of projects, salmon scientists have tagged and tracked salmon smolts and kelts with both acoustic, radio and PIT tags. To date, nine countries are participating and the project covers the entire distribution area within the European Union (from Portugal in the south to Finland in the north).

The ‘Inventory of Research Relating to Salmon Mortality in the Sea’ (the Inventory) was established in 2002 and is updated annually. It is a tool that may be used in the development of research priorities for potential funding and in better co-ordinating existing research efforts. It can be found on the Board’s website: North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization - Salmon at Sea

Source of Information
Further information can be found on the NASCO website: North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization - NASCO
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