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The Status of Wild Atlantic Salmon - A River by River Assessment found that wild Salmon have been completely eliminated from no fewer than 300 out of over 2,000 river systems in their original range, and stocks hang by a thread in many others. In Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the species has all but disappeared, and it is on the brink of extinction in Estonia, Portugal, Poland, the United States and parts of Canada. Nearly 90 per cent of the known healthy populations exist in just four countries: Norway, Republic of Ireland, Iceland and Scotland. In the last 30 years, catches of wild salmon have fallen by 80 per cent.

Across the UK, nearly 50 per cent of salmon rivers are in trouble, and over 30 per cent have endangered populations. Of Northern Ireland's 44 salmon rivers, 30 have populations that are either endangered or vulnerable, and 55 out of 76 salmon rivers in England and Wales are degraded. In Scotland, the species is endangered in over 30 per cent of salmon rivers.

"Being home to such a huge proportion of the world's wild Atlantic salmon population, the British Isles, especially Scotland, bears a huge responsibility to raise its game to protect this, the king of fish. The numerous threats and damaging human activities must be addressed," said Elizabeth Leighton, WWF senior policy officer.

Among the major threats to wild salmon populations is commercial salmon farming, which threatens to erode the gene pool through inter-breeding with escapees, as well as promoting the spread of parasites and diseases. Other hazards highlighted in the report include pollution from industry and agriculture, dams and other man-made obstructions that impede salmon migration, and river engineering projects that interfere with habitat and natural ecological processes. Climate change is also increasingly suspected of affecting the salmon at sea and is a major priority for action.

WWF and the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) are calling on countries participating in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) conference in Spain from 4 to 8 June 2001, to take vital steps to ensure the salmon's survival. To address the threats both at sea and in rivers, WWF is calling for a range of actions, including a moratorium on certain types of fishing and more effective management of river basins. The impact of industrially farmed salmon on wild salmon populations is among the issues to be discussed by member nations of NASCO.

"When a river loses its salmon, that locally specialised population is lost forever. The fate of the species is increasingly becoming a sad story of extinction peppered across Europe. To save wild Atlantic salmon in the long term, governments must restore rivers where it is threatened or has disappeared and take action to protect those rivers still hosting healthy populations," said Elizabeth Leighton.