In the 18th century, over a half million Atlantic salmon returned to New England’s rivers to spawn every year. Today, all that's left of this legacy are a few hundred fish in a handful of rivers in eastern Maine and limited populations in several large rivers farther south.
In November 2000, the federal government declared the wild Atlantic salmon runs in the Gulf of Maine as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. TU worked hard for this decision, but much remains to be done. The ESA listing is just the beginning of the effort to save the last wild Atlantic salmon in the U.S.
TU is working on multiple fronts to promote recovery of these fish. They include:
TU has provided expertise to a federal effort to remove a small dam that was blocking spawning habitat on the East Machias River. TU also helped pull together community members, agencies and volunteers in removing a small dam on the St. George River.
TU volunteers and staff will work on numerous other habitat restoration and dam removal projects on Maine's salmon rivers in the coming years. TU will also be involved in habitat restoration in the Connecticut and Merrimack River watersheds as part of the effort to restore salmon in these two large river systems.
Excessive withdrawals from salmon waters, particularly by commercial blueberry and cranberry growers, regularly threaten to reduce stream flows to levels harmful to salmon. The state is currently developing a water use management plan for the Pleasant River and Mopang Stream that will serve as a model for other watersheds.
Maine is also working on a statewide instream flow policy. TU staff and volunteers have participated in hearings on both these policies, and on applications by berry growers for specific irrigation withdrawal permits.
Relicensings on the Penobscot River and its tributaries hold some promise for opening up spawning habitat for salmon. TU is also working to extend the section of the Kennebec watershed that opened to salmon by the 1999 removal of the Edwards dam.
TU's staff and volunteers are pressing for implementation of fish passage requirements on the already licensed Fort Halifax dam on the Sebasticook River, a major tributary to the Kennebec just above the former Edwards dam. This has the potential to open up the entire Sebasticook River to free passage from the ocean.
TU is also participating in relicensing efforts at two dams in the middle portion of the Kennebec watershed. Over half of the historic salmon habitat in the Kennebec is above these dams, and TU is working to ensure timely provision of fish passage for salmon.
TU will work with state and federal agencies to ensure that the recovery plan addresses interactions between wild and aquaculture salmon; restoration stocking and hatchery practices; and water use.
Atlantic salmon runs in New England will never reach the half million mark again. But TU is confident that we can once again have viable, wild populations of these remarkable fish in Maine, and we're working hard to achieve this goal.