Orri Vigfusson

Ashoka Fellow
Reykjavik, Iceland
Fellow Since 2004

Citation

This profile was prepared when Orri Vigfusson was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
In 1989, Orri Vigfusson realized that saving wild Atlantic salmon would require an international citizen-led program to make market forces work for, rather than against, conservation. Orri proposed that citizen groups throughout the North Atlantic approach their governments and the fishing industry with a plan that would rescue both the disappearing fish and the struggling fishermen who depend on them: buy out fishing rights, stabilize the salmon population, and establish salmon as a valuable resource whose protection would bring income to rural areas throughout Europe and North America.

At the time, Orri had been involved in local conservation on the Big Laxa River in northern Iceland. He realized that no matter how effective his local efforts were, they could not ensure the survival of salmon. Even when they are well protected in their rivers, the fish are often caught as they venture out to open sea. Orri knew that people throughout Europe, Scandinavia, and North America were also trying to restore and protect wild salmon, yet nothing seemed to work. It was an important moment. The salmon industry was changing. The Atlantic catch had been on the wane for decades. Large fish farms were stepping in to maintain the supply. The remaining small and medium fishermen were squeezed between a dwindling resource and stiff competition from their larger competitors.

Orri founded the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) to manage an international program of action that starts with the commercial buyouts of drift nets, draft nets, and almost all coastal fishing operations throughout the North Atlantic. The fund creates a common agenda among river conservators, anglers’ associations, landowners along rivers, and scientists. Together with NASF they raise private money and lobby governments for political support and financial investment for Salmon conservation. The fund has organized partners in 15 countries, supporting the financial, legal, and political aspects of the buyouts. Orri has helped broker salmon buyouts in all but two key countries: Ireland and Norway.

Protecting salmon in the open ocean takes the pressure off the species, but it is just the first step in Orri’s vision. The next move will be to develop local economic incentives to make salmon a lucrative natural resource through activities such as catch-and-release sport fishing, related tourism, and branding of local salmon products. For Orri, salmon conservation is a driving force for improvement of the economic health and security of rural communities.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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