New Gaula River Owners Management Proposes Easing of the Fishing Regulations, while the Atlantic Salmon is “Red Listed” in Norway
On December 14th, 2023, the Gaula River Owners Association will be voting on a measure to reduce the salmon fishing regulations. Currently, and for the last years, the Gaula has had the following regulations in place:
-A daily limit of 1 salmon killed
-A weekly salmon of 2 salmon killed
-A season limit of 4 salmon killed
-Only one salmon can be killed over 80cm
-Female salmon are protected (and must be released) from July1-August 31st
The new Gaula River Owners Association is proposing reducing these regulations in 2024, to include:
–No weekly limit of salmon killed
-Increase in the size of large salmon to 89cm
-Female salmon protected from August 1-31st
While these three regulations might not seem like a major change to the overall fishing regulations, when looking at the overall picture of the population of Atlantic salmon, and the continued decline of the wild Atlantic salmon population both around the world, and particularly in Norway, these regulation changes mark what we feel is a major step backwards in salmon conservation policy on the Gaula River. While many other Norwegian salmon rivers are either forced to close due to poor returns and spawning, and all neighboring rivers including the Orkla and Namsen, are maintaining or strengthening their regulations.
The issue with the deregulation of these rules, is that given the right circumstances, these three regulation changes in conjunction, can have a massive impact on the number of salmon killed each season.
The Gaula is a particularly sensitive ecosystem, in that the main river is un-dammed, and therefor subject to both extremely high water and subsequently extremely low water.
In the event of a high water season start, many salmon can become “trapped” below the Gaulfoss rapids, meaning that the main concentration of the run of salmon are being more heavily targeted in a concentrated area. This is not such a problem if there are regulations which limit both the daily, weekly, and annual catch, as well as setting a reasonable size limit to salmon one can kill.
However, if the weekly catch limit is removed, and subsequently the size of the one “large” salmon that can be caught and killed is increased, then the theoretical catch during a high water season start could potentially double, with the average weight size of salmon killed being increased as well.
In 2012, when the Gaula was extremely high for all of June, and there were far less strict fishing regulations. The catches during June were astounding, however, when the Gaulfoss finally opened up, and fish could pass further upstream, there were very few fish left to swim upriver, and able to spawn.
The Atlantic salmon population in general continues to decline around the world, with Norwegian rivers in particular showing weak returns, leading to the Atlantic Salmon being placed on the “red list” of species.
What the River Owners Association has now suggested, considering the overall situation of the Atlantic salmon is in our opinion, quite risky, as the potential impacts of this increased mortality of salmon from fishing pressure will surely not be seen for 3-5 years from now. At which point, much of the damage to the spawning population necessary to keep the Gaula thriving, may have already been depleted to a level where the river is no longer self-sustainable.
We would urge the River Owners Association to take into consideration would be to take a more conservative approach to reducing regulations. If one looks at the Orkla river, which has had very similar catch statistics to Gaula in the past, the Orkla River Owners Association is not planning any ease regulations at all. But rather maintain the current regulations which are a vital part to the ongoing preservation of wild salmon spawning.
Rather than changing 3 major regulations overnight, why not start with easing 1 regulation, i.e., increasing the size of the 1 large salmon that can be killed from 80cm to 89 (or even 90cm) and see if this has any bigger impact.
Then at the mid-season evaluation, when the River Owners Association has a better understanding of how the coming season will develop, and what impact these changes might have.
What we would like to understand from the River Owners Association is what their plan is if all three of these regulations are reduced.
What will happen at the mid-season evaluation if the numbers of fish caught during the first half of the season has increased dramatically, while the return of fish into the river remains low, or is even a reduction of last year’s particularly small run?
Without an adequate backup plan if these reduced regulations have negative consequences, this feels like an irresponsible decision by a few landowners over a resource which is owned and should benefit hundreds of ground owners.
All river land owners and operators on the Gaula want to be able to offer the best possible fishing experience and therefore also the best possible catching experience to their customers, however, we feel that these suggested reductions of the river regulations which have been in place for quite some time, may be a short-term solution which only lead to a further decline of the quality of fishing on the Gaula in the long-term.
We hope that the River Owners Association takes the time to consider the consequences of their actions, not only for the coming season, but for the future generations of first and foremost, landowners, as well as fishermen and the businesses in the community which rely on the fishing tourism.
The Gaula has over the last 10 years gained popularity as one of the last productive, wild salmon rivers with strong regulations which protect the salmon and hopefully create a sustainable population which can support the local landowners and tourist economy for years to come.
Reducing these regulations at such a critical point for the Atlantic salmon may have a serious impact on the future of the Gaula salmon and for the future generation of landowners. We feel these changes are shortsighted and hope that the Gaula River Management board reconsider their proposal.