Atlantic Salmon Public Comment Period Ends: What Happens Next?
4/14/2000 -- -- Background
Once thriving in rivers throughout New England, the last wild Atlantic salmon are now reduced to a few dozens of adult fish in a handful of Maine rivers. The state of Maine developed a promising plan to save the salmon, but has failed to fund or implement it fully. In 1995 the USFWS and the NMFS ("the Services") proposed listing the salmon runs in seven of Maine's rivers as threatened; two years later, they withdrew the proposal based on the strength of the Maine plan.
Since then, the salmon's status has worsened, and the state has lagged behind in carrying out its plan. As a last-resort effort to press for a strong recovery plan, TU and others filed a lawsuit challenging the decision to withdraw the listing proposal.
As a result, in November 1999, the Services again proposed listing Maine's wild salmon under the ESA, but this time as endangered. TU supports the proposal, which has been subject to vociferous attack by Maine governor Angus King and others.
TU has been aggressively mobilizing support for the listing. Over 1,000 of our New England members wrote the Services, and our regional staff have testified before the Maine state legislaturem nd visited the editorial boards of Maine's major newspapers.
While the question of whether to list the wild populations is important, it's not nearly as important as determining what we should do to save the fish. Some of the risks to salmon take place in the ocean, where concerned citizens can't do much to address them. However, there are several ways we can increase the chance for salmon survival. Here's an outline of what Trout Unlimited believes will help.
What Can We Do to Save Maine's Salmon?
It comes down to two items:
More than 90 percent of Maine's salmon habitat has been lost. No salmon habitat means no salmon. We must protect the remaining habitat from threats, including dams, pollution, deforestation, unfenced livestock, and sedimentation. The most important tool for protecting rivers and streams is maintaining healthy forest buffers around rivers and their tributaries.
Just as important, we must increase the amount of habitat available for salmon. There are thousands of river miles with suitable habitat where the only obstacle to salmon restoration is dams that lack fish passage.
Maintaining buffers around rivers and streams and removing dams or providing fish passage will mean making some sacrifices. But we believe those sacrifices are worthwhile, not just for salmon, but for all the other values of healthy rivers.
- Known Risks.
We currently know that two activities are affecting Maine's salmon. We must begin by addressing both immediately.
- Water Withdrawals
The Problem: Many salmon rivers are adjacent to agricultural areas where irrigation is becoming more common. Salmon and crops are both most stressed during droughts, and in late summer. Water withdrawals at those times can have devastating impacts on salmon-and on anything else that lives in the river.
The Solution: We must set clear limits on water withdrawals, and not allow irrigation from salmon rivers to occur during periods when low flows are already causing stress. In the longer term, farmers, fisheries advocates, and regulators must identify how to reduce the need for irrigation and find sources of irrigation water that do not harm fish.
The Problem: There are three problems with "fish farms:" the potential for disease, the large numbers of escaped fish, and the use of non-native strains of salmon.
The Solution: We must compel the aquaculture industry to:
*use the best available technology to contain its fish
*institute a verifiable method to document the escapees
*mark all fish so they can be identified if they escape
*screen freshwater hatcheries to ensure they do not leak foreign fish into Maine rivers
*stop using non-native strains of fish for broodstock until systems that guarantee no escapees are developed
- Water Withdrawals
TU anticipates that the Services will list Atlantic salmon as endangered later this year. We hope the decision will spawn a new period of cooperation among the state, the Services, and conservationists to proceed with the business at hand: restoring Salmon salar, the silver leaper.
Please watch this space as the Atlantic salmon debate unfolds. We will announce updates and any future opportunities for public involvement as they become available.
Thank you for your interest in conserving, protecting, and restoring America's salmon legacy.
Sources for Atlantic salmon info:
- April 14, 2000 Press Release: Comment Period for Atlantic Salmon Endangered Proposal Closes
- Spring '00 TROUT: "Code Red for Atlantic Salmon" (This feature story is not available on-line. Click here to become a member of Trout Unlimited and receive a copy of our quarterly publication, TROUT.)