A mud-spattered station wagon with fishing gear plainly visible inside stands parked on a street in Aberdeen, Scotland. It has a sticker pasted to the rear window reading DON'T BUY DANISH BACON in virulent red capitals.
The car belongs to Reg Righyni, an Englishman of Italian descent who is rated by many as Britain's finest salmon angler. He lives beside his private stretch of the River Lune. By mid-September of this year he had not caught a single salmon.
Another Englishman, Gerry Fane, is lucky enough to spend three weeks each summer on the magnificent Namsen River in Norway. In 20 years of fishing, the average size of the salmon he caught never dropped below 18 pounds. This year, from a total catch of 62 fish, only five were better than five pounds in weight. Thirty-seven of his salmon had broken dorsal fins and other signs of net injuries.
In Canada in 1967, 34% fewer salmon were caught in Atlantic-flowing rivers than the year before. In London, at Billingsgate Fish Market, 40 tons of salmon were offered for sale in February and March of this year. In 1963 the equivalent figure was 105 tons.
The evidence is fragmentary, the facts hard to assemble. But there is now no doubt in the minds of anglers and fishery experts on both sides of the Atlantic that by the deliberate policy of its government, and in spite of almost universal condemnation, the civilized and progressive nation of Denmark is destroying Salmo salar, the Atlantic salmon, one of the great sport fishes of the world.
My investigation of the assault on the salmon began on a bitter October morning in West Greenland. Against ominous, isolated snowflakes drifting out of the gray overcast, the red-and-white flag of Denmark fluttered in the wind. The street market was open in the capital, Godthaab (pop. 5,000). Great pop-eyed cod, caught between the icebergs a few hours earlier, lay in the stalls, and an Eskimo was bloodily hacking a reindeer into quarters for his sales display. Five hundred yards away, up a rough road cut out of dusty gray rock, one could buy elaborate hi-fi equipment and fine German and Japanese cameras from a brightly lit store that would not be out of place among the shops of the Radhusplads in downtown Copenhagen.
Godthaab is not a frontier town, though it has the makeshift appearance of one. In Greenland no frontiers have been achieved. There are only tenuously held beachheads on the western and southwestern coasts, where the North Atlantic drift holds the pack ice back and the fjords and harbors stay unfrozen in the summertime. The beachheads are sometimes hundreds of miles apart, and no roads link them across impassable wastes of mountain and glacier. Until five years ago the only travel was by sea. Now a helicopter flies when the uncertain Greenland weather allows.
In the ramshackle single-story hotel in Godthaab and in Sukkertoppen, a hundred miles to the north, it is possible to order Chateaubriand and French wine. Naturally they are not cheap: everything is imported, even vegetables. This does not worry the locals, though. The Danish administrators of Greenland live tax-free, and for five years now the native Eskimos also have had plenty of money to spend.
The money comes from the slaughter of thousands of tons of salmon. Eskimo fishermen, who made a meager living by catching cod before the salmon kill started in 1964, now earn as much as $12,000 in the three-month netting season between September and November, according to Holten Moller, who is chief trade inspector in Godthaab for the Royal Greenland Trading Company.
For two hundred years European and American scientists had been trying to solve one of the sea's great mysteries: the migration route of the Atlantic salmon. Every year the great leaping fish returned to their native rivers, fighting upstream against multiple hazards to spawn in the hill streams. After two or three years of river life the red-speckled salmon parr that had hatched out from the eggs took on a bright silver coloration and, as salmon smolts, dropped downstream to the sea. And there, once they had left the inshore waters, they disappeared from human knowledge.