Media presentation in Vopnafjörður

— Media Advisory, 23rd September 2019

It can be said that the 6x Rivers Conservation Project builds on the decades of conservation work and emphasis already set by the Strengur Angling Club, founded 60 years ago. The North Atlantic Salmon is under threat with stocks in decline all over the Northern hemisphere. The project’s emphasis is on preserving the land and river systems in North East Iceland and maintaining the spawning grounds of the North Atlantic Salmon in the area.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has for many years visited Iceland for fishing, and in discussions with fellow anglers and directors of the Strengur Angling Club, decided that decisive action was needed.

“If we don’t act now, we run the risk of losing the species. That we don’t want.”

says Gísli Ásgeirsson, CEO of Strengur Angling Club

The 6x Rivers Conservation Project is of ambitious scale. Substantial investment will be undertaken in research, development and conservation of the wild salmon in the next three to four years. All investments by Sir Jim Ratcliffe in Iceland are on behalf, and to further the conservation effort, but the work is managed by Strengur Angling Club in Iceland.

“We take this project very seriously and are careful about how money is being spent. We want to ensure that the project, in the end, becomes self-sustaining, and in a position to go on into the future, for the benefit of the rivers’ environment in the North East of Iceland and the salmon itself. ”

Peter S. Williams, INEOS Group Technology Director

The research program introduced [in August 2019] is part of the conservation project. The research is spearheaded by the MFRI (Hafrannsóknastofnun) and the Imperial College London and aims in part to uncover the reasons why the North-Atlantic Salmon is in decline. Part of the research is mapping the salmon’s life cycle and identifying bottlenecks that could be damaging to the stock, whether they are linked to habitat, food availability or other factors.

The study which is fully funded by Sir Jim is investigating new areas of salmon ecology and behaviour. PhD students from each institute will carry out in-depth studies of the size of the current salmon population, mapping DNA and through high tech tagging aim to establish links between the ecology and behaviour of salmon in the rivers and their return rate from the sea.

Among other investments in the conservation project is the building of salmon ladders to increase the salmon’s habitat in the rivers and seeding of eggs from fish native to the rivers in the higher reaches of the rivers where the salmon has previously been unable to reach. Also, in its first steps, is a land restoration and afforestation project along the salmon rivers run in co-operation with the Vopnafjörður Municipality. The project is headed by Else Möller, Project Manager in the Vopnafjörður Municipality’s Forestry Division.

“This is an exciting new project that has not been tried before in Iceland. The idea is to establish land restoration and afforestation in the area along the rivers. The aim is to improve eroded areas, to get more shelter, and over time more organic material into the rivers. We are trying different species of plants to see which kind of trees can survive and grow in the area.”

Else Möller, Project Manager

This vital work is intended to help rejuvenate soil eroded areas and introduce more bioactivity into the ecosystem. This has the potential to increase food resources for young salmon in the rivers in the longer term. The approach, of working to conserve and restore these ecosystems relies on farmers remaining on the land, to maintain their traditional agriculture and enhance the quality of habitats alongside these rivers.

“Co-operation and partnership with the community surrounding the rivers and the river systems is of utmost importance for the outcome of the project,” says Peter S. Williams.

At the same time, farmers are actively encouraged to remain on the land, to maintain their traditional agriculture and the quality of habitats alongside these rivers, as well as providing direct support to local communities.

“Farming has continued on all farms that have been purchased, and even reintroduced on one farm where it was being abandoned. It is a case of coinciding interests because it is best for the rivers that the surrounding area is cared for and cultivated in an environmentally friendly manner, with traditional agriculture. Besides supporting the salmon, the conservation project is also supporting continued farming in the area,” says Gísli Ásgeirsson.

It is worth noting that in addition to direct contributions from Sir Jim Ratcliffe, all profits from Strengur are re-invested back into the conservation project. Already there are signs that the work being done has had a positive effect on the rivers, the return rates of fish from the sea have gone up, and Selá is among those rivers in Iceland where the catch rate is highest.

Additional material for download:

  1. Film – short version
  2. Film – longer version
  3. Additional film (VNR IV – B-roll)

Development and salmon conservation in the major rivers of North East Iceland on September 23rd, 2019 — Synopsis of presentations:

  1. SALMON RESEARCH & CONSERVATION PLAN
    Peter S. Williams, INEOS Group Technology Director, introduces the joint Salmon Research Project headed by the Imperial College London and the Icelandic Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI). The objectives of the research are to identify and implement preferred ways to grow salmon populations. Williams outlines the decline in Atlantic Salmon numbers over the last 30 years, and how numbers from Iceland differ from those in other countries. He outlines how the MFRI and the Imperial College organise the research; How the MFRI focuses on empirical field work and historical river and sea data, while the Imperial College provides measurement techniques, freshwater expertise, advanced data and genetic analysis and modelling. There will be two PhD students heading the research, with one based in Iceland and the other based with the Imperial College London. Total investment in the Salmon Research Project is estimated 550 thousand GBP (over 85 million ISK) in the next three to four years. Results will be communicated when available.

    • About the speaker:
    Dr. Peter S. Williams has been INEOS Group Technology Director since January 2017. Previously he spent eleven years as Chief Executive of INEOS Technologies, one of the business divisions in the INEOS Group. In addition to his Group Technology Director role, Dr Williams is currently the Head of Investor Relations for the INEOS Group. Before joining INEOS in 2006, Dr Williams spent over 20 years with BP Chemicals in a variety of senior management roles in business, technology, and strategy. He has a BA and DPhil in chemistry from the University of York and carried out post-doctoral research work in the Hahn-Meitner Institut in Berlin.

  2. VEGETATION PLANTING PROGRAM
    “Land Restoration & Afforestation” is the heading of the presentation given by Else Möller, Project Manager in the Vopnafjörður Municipality’s Forestry Division. In her talk she tackles the question of whether it is possible to re-establish and improve the area around the salmon rivers with land restoration and afforestation in order to improve the living conditions for the salmon population. The approach is new and has not been tested in Iceland before. She points out that while there is knowledge from abroad about the effects of deforestation along rivers, there is limited knowledge about the effects of afforestation. Else Möller introduces the methodology and a pilot project already in progress with the Vopnafjörður Municipality. She talks about the challenges facing the project in a treeless sub-arctic area and ways to meet those challenges. If successful the afforestation and land restoration program has the potential to increase food availability for the salmon, in a sustainable, natural and indigenous way, in order to grow their population in as quick a timeframe as possible.

    • About the speaker:
    Else Möller is a forester and Project Manager in the Forestry Division of the Vopnafjörður Municipality. Previously she held the position of Project Manager at Austurbrú, a private non-profit institution advocating in the interest of inhabitants, communities, institutions and compagnies in East-Iceland. Else Möller, studied Forestry at the Agriculture University of Iceland, completing her Masters’ degree in Forestry in 2013. With her studies she worked part time at the Héraðs- and Austurlandsskógar Forestry Project. Möller is also a qualified nurse and has worked as a nurse in Iceland and Denmark. She is also a qualified teacher, specialising in teaching adults.

  3. SALMON EGG PLANTING PROGRAM
    Egg planting in the rivers in North East Iceland is the focus of the presentation given by Guðni Guðbergsson, Head of MFRI’s Freshwater Fish Division. He covers the importance of annual monitoring of the fish stocks in the rivers, how rivers can be enhanced with egg planting, and the regulatory framework around freshwater salmon and trout. Guðbergsson covers the prerequisite conditions that need to be present for egg planting, and how the method gives the opportunity to further study the survival rates of eggs to fry, the growth of the fish, and its dispersal from the spawning site.

    • About the speaker:
    Guðni Guðbergsson heads the MFRI’s Freshwater Fish Division since 2016. Previously he headed Natural Resource Division of the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries, from 2009 to 2016, and before that he was head of the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries’ Research Division from 2002. Previously he had extensive experience working for the Istitute of Freshwater Fisheries, as researcher, expert, and Project Manager, in the years 1979 to 2002. Guðbergsson also has extensive experience in international co-operation in his field of expertise. He completed a Cand. Scient. degree in ecology and biology of freshwater fish from the University of Oslo in 1985, and a B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Iceland in 1983. Guðni Guðbergsson is one of Iceland’s foremost scientists in the field of freshwater studies.