National Geographic : 2003 Jul
(Continuedfrom page 106) it is brought under control, it will one day bring about the extinc tion of the species." O'Brien's prognosis is debatable, but what is inarguable is the striking contrast between a wild Atlantic salmon and a farmed one. Instead of roaming freely across the Atlantic as they com plete the mysterious, obsessive quest to get back to their home rivers, caged salmon swim cease lessly in circles, their fins worn from rubbing into other fish and nylon nets. The only outlet for their strength is to skitter on their tails in short bursts across densely packed pens. "You have 800,000 of these creatures crammed into cages in one spot, fed chemicals, and defecating in a shallow estuary," says Patrick O'Flaherty, general manager of Ballynahinch Castle, a famed fishing hotel in Connemara, Ireland, that saw its wild salmon and sea trout stocks collapse as sea lice infestations spread from nearby fish farms. "Do we need this? Is it sustainable? When you take one of the most noble creatures on the planet, a creature that makes these epic voyages, and bend it to the will of man, it is a recipe for disaster. It goes against everything that is natural." 112 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JULY 2003 f your desire is to see Atlantic salmon in something close to their primordial state, there are few better places than Iceland, the strikingly beautiful accretion of volcanic rock, glaciers, and fertile pastureland in the heart of the salmon's range. Anglers who ardently pursue Atlantic salmon, often paying $1,000 to $2,000 a day for the privilege, say they are drawn as much by the splendid neighborhoods the salmon inhabit as they are by catching these large, powerful fish. Iceland is typical Atlantic salmon country: remote, unspoiled, blessed with clear, cold rivers, and painted during the summer fishing season with the two-hour sunsets of the northern latitudes. Orri Vigfiisson has probably done more than any other individual to reduce the commer cial netting that was decimating wild Atlantic salmon. His dedication to the fish arose out of his passion for catching them in his country's rivers. One of his favorites is the Big Laxa in the north, 40 miles below the Arctic Circle. Like most of Iceland's hundred salmon rivers, the Big Laxa still has a healthy salmon population because it has almost no dams, no industry, no aqua culture, and few people living along its banks.