“For the last 3 decades this award-winning entrepreneur and environmentalist has brought about monumental change through negotiating netting buyouts and arranging alternative sources of income for indigenous salmon netsmen … NASF has been behind all the critical and game-changing events of the last 20 years – the buyouts of the Icelandic, Greenlander, English and Irish drift net fisheries to name just a few – as well as being a highly effective international lobbying force in the corridors of power in the salmon producing nations.” (Fish and Fly Magazine, July 2017)
Orri Vigfusson, founder and chairman of NASF, was a politician for one fish, a man obsessed with saving the Atlantic salmon. He 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.
An entrepreneur and life-long outdoorsman, Vigfusson was first and foremost an angler, happiest when on the river. It was on the river, in his native home of Iceland, that he first became aware of declining salmon stocks in the 1970. Conversations with other local anglers soon exposed the extent of the damage being done by nets and long lines to shrinking salmon populations.
As a descendant of a commercial fishing family that witnessed firsthand the collapse of the Icelandic herring industry in the late 1960’s, Vigfusson knew that there was only one way to halt this decline – commercial fishermen had to be persuaded to stop salmon fishing. He began speaking with them, connecting the environmental harm of declining stocks to its direct impacts on the livelihoods of those contributing to it.
Vigfusson came to embrace the notion of ‘green capitalism,’ fervent in his belief that any income fishermen would lose would have to be replaced with cash and the equipment to develop other kinds of sustainable fisheries.
He pioneered a quota-based buyout system with the Faroese in 1991. It is still considered one of the most successful conservation and economic development transactions of its kind. He then applied this approach in Greenland, Iceland, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England. His strategy to buy out the fishing rights of commercial salmon fishers, whose over-fishing was causing the decline, respected both fishing communities’ right to a livelihood, as well as the needs of a desperately imperiled species.
Orri’s mission and approach resonated with a wide swath of the population. Monarchs, governments, cultural and media institutions, angling organizations and conservation groups all lauded his efforts and the visible results they produced. He was awarded Knight Orders from Her Majesty The Queen of Denmark, The Icelandic Falcon from the President of Iceland, and, more recently, the Order of Knighthood from the French government. Time Magazine named him one of 2004’s European Heroes, while The Economist called him the leading environmental social entrepreneur of 2006. He was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award in 2007. Conservation organizations from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to the Atlantic Salmon Federation have similarly honored him, along with angling organizations such as the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame and the New York City Angler’s Club.
Today, the North Atlantic salmon, as well as and the commercial fishermen who targeted them, are indebted to Orri Vigfusson. His vision ensured a future for both, and his legacy will carry on in the form of the Orri Fund.