The Facts about Atlantic Salmon: What's Wrong with the Maine Salmon Plan?


The Facts about Atlantic Salmon: What’s Wrong with the Maine Salmon Plan?

The Facts about Atlantic Salmon: What’s Wrong with the Maine Salmon Plan?


1/9/2000 — —

Here’s what Governor King had to say about the Maine Salmon Plan a few weeks ago:

“And the best hope for restoring and protecting this habitat is the Maine Salmon Conservation Plan. Drawn up over more than three years . . . the Plan – which was supposed to last five years – is a comprehensive, cooperative approach that identifies every threat to the salmon within our control and sets about mitigating or eliminating them.”

It sounds good, and, in fact, everyone involved in the salmon restoration effort, including the federal government, agrees that the Maine Plan, if fully funded and implemented, will do a lot to protect the freshwater portion of Atlantic salmon habitat in Maine.

But there have been serious problems with implementation of the plan. Deadlines have been missed, funding has been inadequate, and a number of the private partners in the Plan have called for an immediate listing of Atlantic salmon in Maine. An examination of the Plan’s record:

Myth: The state plan has created and supported Watershed Councils to oversee and implement the Plan on each of the affected rivers.

Fact: Watershed Councils exist for seven of the rivers. However, those that are able to support activities have done so with limited funding and assistance from the State of Maine. Total state expenditures to support 7 watershed councils over 2 years are less than $100,000. There is no watershed council for Cove Brook.

Myth: Maine Conservationists support the State Plan, and the call for a listing has come from out of state activists.

Fact:Three Maine groups who have been active in the Plan (Trout Unlimited, The Atlantic Salmon Federation, and the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association) have said that a combination of inaction by the state and a continuing population decline require a listing.

Myth: Maine business has done everything possible to protect salmon.

Fact: Most Maine businesses have not changed their practices much since the State Plan was instituted. Most didn’t need to, since their practices had little or no impact on salmon. Two major exceptions are blueberry agriculture and aquaculture. The blueberry industry has entered into a Water Use Planning process with other stakeholders. This process is behind schedule, and may not provide any real protection when finished. The aquaculture industry has consistently refused to change practices which threaten wild fish, or even to share information that would help determine the degree of risk.

Myth: A listing now is premature. All parties agreed to give the plan 5 years to work.

Fact:The 1997 agreement called for an annual report. Last December, many parties, including Watershed Councils, TU and ASF, the federal agencies, and even some state agencies, were critical of funding and implementation in Year 1. The federal agencies asked for specific changes to be made in Year 2, and today’s proposed listing is a direct result of the state’s inability to address those concerns, as well as continued declines in both adult and juvenile populations.

Myth: The Maine Plan “identifies every threat to the salmon within our control and sets about mitigating or eliminating them.”

Fact: The two major threats identified by the 1995 and 1999 Federal Status Reviews that are within Maine’s control are escaped European fish from aquaculture pens and water withdrawals that limit freshwater habitat. To date, neither of these threats has been addressed. Some progress has been made on water withdrawals; almost none on aquaculture.

Myth: The state plan is working fine, and has delivered on all that it promised.

Fact: The state plan promised a lot, and although many private groups, volunteers, dedicated state biologists and other state workers have achieved some worthy accomplishments, the sum total is far less than what was promised. The table below shows a few of the actions and their deadlines in the Plan, along with progress over the past two years. Please note that the data in the table were compiled in December 1999.

Benchmark Due Date Comment
50% of riparian lands adjacent to riparian habitat protected 12/99 Several parcels have been acquired or protected through easement. Total is probably less than 10% or the mapped habitat. No state funding or staff is dedicated to salmon related land protection.
80% of industrial landowners using Best Management Practices 1999 No staff or method to monitor compliance. Cherryfield Foods had a major sedimentation violation on the Pleasant River in 1999.
Develop Water Management Plans for the Pleasant, Narraguagus, and Machias Rivers All Plans in place by 12/98 A committee is still working on the Pleasant River Plan. The most recent meeting was in late November. Machias and Narraguagus are next. No plans in place as of 12/99.
Install weirs to reduce the potential risks of pen raised fish interbreeding with wild salmon no farmed fish reaching spawning grounds by December, 2000 Weirs have been installed on the Pleasant and Dennys. The Dennys weir washes out at high water, and so is not effective for much of the migration season. Last year, the Dennys and Pleasant weirs combined fished only 14 days. No funding or plan for Machias and East Machias weirs is in place. And the plan makes no provisions to even look for aquaculture escapees on the Ducktrap, Sheepscot, and Cove Brook, despite evidence that European fish from aquaculture have interbred with wild fish on the Sheepscot.
Aquaculture Industry adopt a “Loss control code of practices” 100% compliance with Code by 12/2000 Code was supposed to put to rule making in October, 1999. No rule making announcement has been made. Industry has refused to share the “Code” with private groups, and negotiations with the Federal agencies have broken down.
Greater attention to Preparing aquaculture cages for storms number of storm related insurance claims Industry refuses to share information on losses or insurance claims.
Adopt loss control code of practices for freshwater hatcheries zero hatchery escapes by 12/98 Escapes continue from at least Connors Brothers hatchery (salmon on Pleasant River) and Maine IFW hatchery (trout on Sheepscot).

Background Information on the Atlantic Salmon Federation and Trout Unlimited

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) is an international, non-profit organization which promotes the conservation and wise management of the wild Atlantic salmon and its environment. Based in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, the Federation was founded in 1948 by individuals who shared a commitment to conservation and a respect for the majestic and severely threatened Atlantic salmon. Today, ASF is a powerful conservation network of seven regional councils and 150 local river-based organizations represents more than 40,000 dedicated conservationists in eastern Canada and the United States.

In Maine, ASF operates an office in Brunswick where it provides guidance and assistance to the Downeast watershed councils, is an active participant in Project SHARE and is restoring historical spawning habitat through the removal of dams. The Federation is the leader on addressing international and national conservation and management issues, such as eliminating high seas commercial fisheries and ocean habitat problems. ASF played a pivotal role in closing the Canadian interceptory commercial salmon fisheries and in reducing Greenland’s salmon quota in 1998. ASF is also conducting research into the impacts of aquaculture on wild stocks and of the ocean ecosystem on low marine survival..

Trout Unlimited (TU) is a national conservation organization whose mission is to conserve, protect, and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. It has 117,000 members in the United States. In Maine, TU is represented by seven chapters with a combined membership of over 1,100. Each chapter sends representatives to the all volunteer Maine State Council, which coordinates activities at the state level.

Chapters in Maine take on local and regional projects, including habitat enhancement, habitat protection, education, and fundraising for these activities and for research. Maine’s Kennebec Valley Chapter and TU’s national office were leaders in the efforts to remove Edwards Dam, the first step towards restoring Atlantic salmon and other migratory fish on the Kennebec River.

Date: 1/9/2000