Orri Vigfússon

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Orri Vigfússon1942-
2016 Inductee

As the founder of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, Orri Vigfússon has succeeded in preventing the seemingly inevitable decimation of wild North Atlantic salmon populations. Vigfússon learned about the importance of conservation at an early age while growing up in northern Iceland. He began working in his family’s herring business at the age of ten, but the boom was short lived. According to Orri, “We overfished. And while the people made a lot of money from herring, ultimately we had to stop.” 

Orri went on to study international business in London, before returning to Iceland to pursue a wide range of entrepreneurial ventures. It was only in 1966 that he was introduced to salmon fishing when his wife brought him to fish along the Laxa River, famous for its salmon runs. He was immediately hooked and in 1984 was elected chairman of the Laxa Fishing Club. Vigfússon soon learned the extent of Iceland’s shrinking salmon populations and launched a campaign to end mixed-stock fishing off the Icelandic coast. The idea was to buy up commercial salmon fishing quotas in Iceland; however, a salmon tagging project soon revealed that fish were turning up in processing plants in Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. Orri realized that a multi-national approach to conservation would be needed and founded the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) in 1989.

As a descendent of a commercial fishing family, Orri knew that the only solution to this problem was to persuade the fishermen to stop salmon fishing. For this plan to succeed, the income the fishermen would lose must be replaced with cash and the equipment needed to develop other kinds of sustainable fisheries; fortunately, NASF has been able to do just that. With Orri at the helm, NASF has raised millions of dollars to buy the netting rights from commercial fishermen across the North Atlantic. He has negotiated with individual governments to match funding and change policies that have previously influenced their fishing industry practices. He has promoted viable economic alternatives for salmon fishermen including snow crab and lumpfish caviar harvesting. His commercial conservation agreements now cover 85% of the waters which Atlantic salmon inhabit. It is estimated that five to ten million salmon have been saved under his watch that otherwise would have fallen victim to the fishing industry.

Orri represents a new breed of environmental leaders who believe in “green capitalism,” utilizing his business and negotiating skills to effectively protect precious natural resources. He has been recognized worldwide for his incredible achievements, receiving Knight Orders from Her Majesty The Queen of Denmark and The Icelandic Falcon from the President of Iceland. Awards have been bestowed by Time magazine, The Economist and His Royal Highness The Prince of Whales. In 2007, he was the recipient of The Goldman Environmental Award and in 2013 the French Government awarded him an Order of Knighthood. Not one to rest on his accolades, Vigfússon still works tirelessly to ensure that salmon will continue to make it back to their home rivers each year. For securing a future for the Atlantic salmon, the IGFA celebrates Orri Vigfússon.