The recommendation is based on the results of a 2006 Status Review of Atlantic salmon conducted by a team of federal and state fisheries biologists that concluded that the salmon in these three rivers are part of Maine’s original genetic stock and their continued survival is fully warranted. During the public comment period, ASF will evaluate whether an ‘endangered’ status or a ‘threatened’ status is more appropriate on these rivers.
Maine’s Atlantic salmon runs are perilously close to extinction. Since 1998, fewer than 2,000 adults have returned to spawn in the state’s rivers each year. “Historically, these three rivers were the big salmon producers,” said Andrew Goode, VP of US Programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “Today, while Atlantic salmon continue to hang on, their numbers have declined by more than 99% in these watersheds that cover 2/3 of Maine.” Excessive fishing, pollution and dams have taken their toll on salmon populations in these rivers. While over-fishing has been eliminated and water quality has improved, the impacts of dams continue to be a major limiting factor to salmon restoration.
In 2004, a National Academy of Sciences report on Atlantic salmon, commissioned by Senator Snowe and Senator Collins, concluded that dams must be removed on these rivers for Atlantic salmon to have a chance of being restored in Maine. The Atlantic Salmon Federation is not aware of any self-sustaining run of Atlantic salmon above three dams in North America; yet the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot have a minimum of five dams each on their main stems and many more on their key tributaries. “These rivers have been largely managed for industry,” Goode said. “We must find creative ways to achieve a balance between fisheries restoration and continued industrial use of these rivers.” He noted that ASF and others have already created a national model for river restoration on the Penobscot. When implemented, the Penobscot Project will remove three dam passages while allowing the dam owners to increase energy generation at their remaining dams on the river. Goode further noted, “That from ASF’s experience, the most far ranging benefits to Atlantic salmon in Maine have occurred when industry has been part of the solution”.
Atlantic salmon will be the second federally listed fish in the three watersheds. Shortnose sturgeon were listed in 1967. These two species symbolize a serious decline in all 12 sea-run fish species found in Maine’s larger rivers. Several are candidates for listing under the ESA or are deemed “species of concern.” They include Atlantic sturgeon, rainbow smelt, alewives, and blueback herring.
In 2000, Atlantic salmon were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in eight small, Mid-coast and Downeast rivers and there were dire predictions about the negative impacts the listing would have on local economies, particularly in Washington County. None of these predictions were realized. The forest, blueberry and salmon farming industries in these watersheds are prospering. “In fact,” said John Burrows, ASF’s Maine Coordinator, “The federal government is working with industry, local communities, and conservation groups to purchase riparian easements along salmon rivers, repair poorly maintained logging roads and improperly placed culverts, and restore salmon habitat. The millions of dollars invested by the federal government in these collaborative efforts are benefiting both the local environment and local economies.”
Progress has been made in recent years on the Kennebec River though the bulk of Atlantic salmon habitat still lies above four dams. Removing the Edwards Dam at Augusta in 1999 restored 18-miles of free-flowing river. Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish species can now swim upriver from the ocean to Waterville (60 plus miles). Improved fish passage and dam removals are continuing in the watershed. The Madison Electric Works Dam on the Sandy River, a key Kennebec salmon spawning and rearing tributary was removed in 2006, and the Fort Halifax Dam at the mouth of the Sebasticook River, was removed several months ago.
The Endangered Species Act is an act of last resort to save a species from extinction. This announcement today tells us that while progress is being made, we must do more to save Atlantic salmon from extinction in Maine.
Andrew Goode, Vice President US Programs, ASF (O) 207-725-2833, Cell (751-5124)
John Burrows, Maine Coordinator, ASF (O) 207-725-2833, Cell (415-6637)