To make good decisions, managers, politicians and others must consider how society will benefit or lose if we manage, exploit, improve or damage salmon stocks in a particular way.
Knowing how valuable salmon stocks and fisheries are now isn’t always that helpful. Of course, large values mean that potentially we have a lot to lose. But it’s rare that we’re faced by a choice between all or nothing. More usually we need to know how the value of the salmon might change given a step change in abundance or distribution of stocks or catches.
We need to predict how values would change and, therefore, what society might lose or gain, as a result of different management options.
Over the last few centuries the value derived from the Atlantic salmon has changed. Not only has its abundance and distribution changed in many countries but so have our tastes and the way we exploit it.
Historically, salmon fishing was primarily for food but, from the mid-19th century, salmon angling became increasingly a recreational activity. In the last three decades, this trend has continued. Commercial fishing effort, catches and value have fallen in many areas in response to:
- Falling stocks.
- Falling prices following the exponential growth in salmon farming; and
- Willingness for governments, conservationists and angling interests to pay commercial fisheries not to operate, and the willingness of fishermen to accept.
Although benefiting from reductions in commercial fishing in some cases, salmon anglers have also helped to conserve stocks by releasing an increasing proportion of their catch. So the value of many rod fisheries has been less affected by falling stocks than the commercial fisheries. Even so, some rod fisheries have been closed to protect stocks.
Awareness of, and concern for, the environment has increased. Television and the internet have brought wildlife into people’s homes. Non-governmental organisations have become increasingly popular. People are willing to pay to protect or enhance wildlife especially familiar, iconic species with links to human culture such as the Atlantic salmon. The salmon does not, of course, exist in isolation but as part of the wider aquatic environment. In many countries there has been extensive legislation and huge investment to improve the aquatic environment, including salmon rivers.
Overall, non-use values, such as existence and bequest values, may now substantially exceed values associated with recreational angling, which themselves exceed the commercial value of salmon as food.
It would be unwise to assume that there is no place for commercial salmon fisheries in future. In some countries, wild salmon is now perceived as a superior product to farmed salmon and, with limited availability, prices for wild salmon have risen again.