Dear Friends of Orri,
It is with great sadness that we reach out to all of you following the recent passing of our hero, Orri Vigfússon, Founder and Chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund.
Orri was laid to rest in Reykjavík earlier this week on what would have been his 75th birthday. It was a rare Icelandic blue-sky day, with flags in the capital at half-mast, three former Icelandic presidents in attendance and hundreds of Orri’s friends packed into the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, which was bathed in brilliant light and beautiful music.
We will all miss him. He was a politician for one fish, a man obsessed with saving the Atlantic salmon. Orri took no salary, had no overhead, and single-mindedly spent the last 27 years campaigning to save the salmo salar, the species he crowned the King of Fish.
Orri was first and foremost an angler who was happiest when on the river. The joy he experienced when catching a salmon was exceeded only by the joy he had when one of his friends did the same. We are all indebted to him not only for his selfless spirit but also for his high level of efficiency and effectiveness. Orri’s success with pioneering environmental capitalism earned him the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and universal recognition from the global conservation community. Everyone knows of Orri and his impact on the Atlantic salmon. He is without doubt one of the greatest environmental heroes of all time.
Most of you will have received the email from Orri in May asking you to help the Grassy Creek Foundation plan a new way forward for NASF. The Grassy Creek Foundation is a U.S. charitable foundation committed to, among other initiatives, protection of our rivers and oceans. We have been Orri’s largest financial supporter over the years and we have spent enormous time with him discussing how we can jointly save the Atlantic salmon.
Last summer, Orri asked us to carry on his quest to create the fund that he never had. NASF ironically had no permanent funding, no endowment, no capital. Orri had to raise money constantly, doing so on the banks of rivers 90 days a year, in endless dinners, and in boardrooms around the world. He never had all the capital he needed to close the very important deals he was negotiating and even took out personal loans to fill the gaps. He kept operations very tight to his chest and, with no staff or infrastructure to support him, he did not create an organization built for succession. What became clear is that there is not now, and never will be, a replacement for Orri Vigfússon.
Orri’s last wish and his final priority for NASF was to see a permanent endowment created to fund the mixed stock fishery quota agreements in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Orri believed these agreements are the most important levers to protect the greatest number of salmon, as they directly impact the migratory patterns of fish from over 2,000 rivers in all nations touching the North Atlantic salmon. They address a massive and shared problem across the salmon conservation initiative. These agreements protect the only true common habitat of the salmo salar.
Orri’s vision of the quota-based buyout system with the Faroese, signed in 1991 and maintained ever since, has been viewed as one of the most successful conservation and economic development transactions in history. His final wish was to create a discrete fund that would provide capital to manage this treaty with both the Faroese and Greenlandic fishery management programs, as well as others that may require attention over time.
The Grassy Creek Foundation has been working with the North Atlantic Salmon Fund US, as well as with long time supporters Jeremy Herrmann and the Migratory Salmon Foundation, to set up tax-efficient donor vehicles in the US and the UK to raise capital for the Orri Vigfússon Legacy Fund, or the Orri Fund. These funds are being established with the explicit goal of creating an endowment to finance NASF’s mixed stock quota agreements, assuming acceptable terms will continue to be negotiated with all parties. NASF US and the Migratory Salmon Foundation will establish confidential and discrete accounts to build up this endowment, and we are working closely with all parties to ensure continuity with existing agreements and to continue productive negotiations on those still under discussion. We have reviewed this plan with the Icelandic founding members and directors of NASF International who were involved in the original agreements, and we have their support.
We are counting on your support to help us fund the ongoing agreements he negotiated when he started NASF in 1991. If you cannot give yourself, please assist us in reaching out to those who can. Despite the broad moral support NASF enjoys around the world, its donor base is surprisingly concentrated among a small group of significant contributors. If you care deeply about Orri and the Atlantic salmon, please work with us to secure the desperately needed funds to ensure his legacy.
We are now finalizing the details of the Orri Fund and will be reaching out to you again shortly with more information. In the interim, we welcome pledges of support in Orri’s memory. Please send us an email at [email protected] with any financial pledge you can make and any stories or thoughts about your experiences with Orri. We would love to hear from you all. We will follow up with all pledges once the Orri Fund donor vehicles are properly established.
One of the extraordinary realizations from this week’s funeral service was that Orri touched so very many amazing people and organizations, but they had never before been convened in one place. Sadly, his funeral was the time and place that many of us connected for the first time. We should take this opportunity to determine how we can work together in the future to carry on Orri’s goal of restoring Atlantic salmon populations to abundance across their historical range. The Grassy Creek Foundation will be reaching out to NASF leadership in the coming weeks to discuss next steps. We are committed to facilitating coordination across the various NASF organizations that Orri empowered, as well as other salmon focused conservation and business groups that share the same goal. Let’s seize this opportunity now.
We cannot replace Orri but we can help carry on his quest to save the Atlantic salmon. Please help fund Orri’s vision. Thank you for your consideration.
We leave you with a video piece we created with Orri last year, originally intended to launch an NASF fundraising campaign for the mixed stock fisheries with him this fall. It says it all. Orri was a real hero.
Friend of Orri,
Founder and Chairman
The Grassy Creek Foundation