Decline of the Arctic char population

The world’s Arctic char populations are decreasing and in most places their populations sizes are declining. In Iceland and Norway, fishing statistics point to a sharp decline of the sea running Arctic char stocks. One of the clearest examples is the char stock in River Eyjafjarðará, where the catch increased steadily until the year 2001, but after that there is a complete collapse in the stock. However, the reasons for the decline in char are unclear, although there is no shortage of hypotheses.

The collapse of the char population in River Eyjafjarðará was dealt with by changing the fishing management, since 2007 the practice and killing of char was limited. The following year, a long-term study of the char population of the river was launched. Tagging and recovery of char was used to study the movement and survival in a catch and release  system, while electrofishing of fry was used to monitor the development of the river’s fry economy. 

For several years it seemed that the river was recovering, but now it seems that the char population of the river is at the limit of endurance. Unfortunately, something similar is happening in other rivers in the vicinity of river Eyjafjarðará, e.g. River Hörgá and River Svarfaðardalsá. 

“How and why are the numbers of sea char declining”? The main answer probably lies in the complex relationship with climate change. However, overfishing of char, net fishing in the sea, construction and gravel mining by the rivers are also told to play a role in the collapse. 

The graph below certainly shows how the decline has taken place in rivers in Eyjafjörður. The number of Arctic char caught in the four main rivers in Eyjafjörður, in the years 1990 – 2021.

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