The solution: reaching out to legitimate fishermen with a vested interest in preventing poaching. “Russian commercial fishermen really wanted access to major seafood buyers,” explains Rahr. But to sell salmon to western consumers at a viable price, they needed certification from the Marine Stewardship Council
(MSC), the panel that slaps a seal of approval on well-managed fisheries. At the same time, American seafood purveyors like Walmart and Safeway were looking for new, sustainable sources of wild fish. The Wild Salmon Center helped the two groups forge a partnership; today, the west’s largest food purveyors support the efforts of fishermen on a remote Russian peninsula to combat poaching.
“Russian fishermen want to demonstrate sustainability, to demonstrate chain of custody so that [seafood buyers] know the fish aren’t poached,” says Rahr, who adds that 20 percent of the Russian commercial fishing industry is either MSC-certified or working toward certification. “It’s amazing what people can do when you give them tools and a little support.”
hroughout his tenure at the Wild Salmon Center, Rahr has had ample support himself — much of it from fellow graduates of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Peter Seligmann
M.F.S. ’74, the co-founder of Conservation International, where Rahr worked when the organization was still in its infancy, helped inspire WSC’s salmon stronghold approach. And Margaret Williams
M.E.Sc. ‘93, founder of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic Program, introduced Rahr to Russian biologist Misha Skopets, “the Indiana Jones of salmon,” who facilitated Rahr’s work in the Far East.
“As helpful as the coursework were my fellow students,” Rahr now says of his time at F&ES. “It was incredible to be able to learn from other people who’d worked in conservation in other countries.”
Kamchatka is just one of the many success stories that the Wild Salmon Center has engineered — to date, the group has preserved over one million acres of salmon stronghold habitat around the world, established new salmon conservation groups, and helped five fisheries earn MSC certification. Yet little gives Rahr, a lifelong fisherman, as much satisfaction as hooking a spring-run Chinook salmon on a fly rod in an Oregon river. “The chance to protect a species that means so much to me and my family is really satisfying,” says Rahr, “and incredibly motivating.”