Story by Kaya Pulz originally published on medium.com
Kaya is a former student of DSF’s Vice President Don Sprangers. She now attends Unity College.
The state of Maine is commonly known for its breathtaking scenery, beautiful wildlife, and great fishing. One of the most popular fish in the Gulf of Maine, the Atlantic salmon, has become threatened. The Atlantic salmon was protected under the Endangered Species Act in December of 2000 in result of degradation of water quality and introduction of nonnative species due to the changing climate. But it was long before that time that local fishermen began to notice and protect this falling fish population.
Vice president of Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF) and teacher at Washington Academy High School, Donald Sprangers, explains the importance and his journey of restoring these endangered creatures.
“I grew up salmon fishing on Lake Michigan and later in Oregon. When I moved to Maine in 1990 the Atlantic salmon was listed and ‘threatened’,” Sprangers said. “I vowed to myself that I would not fish for a species in trouble, and would devote my time and talents into the restoration of this species”.
After joining DSF in 1992, Sprangers continues to work towards restoring the Atlantic salmon population in the DSF unit of East Machias, Maine. Here, hundreds of salmon are hatched and studied before reaching maturity. They are then released back into the rivers in hopes of regaining their population. Salmon are perfect indicator species, says Sprangers.
“If salmon populations are in trouble, there must be something wrong with its environment… and there are many issues affecting Atlantic salmon, both in freshwater and saltwater,” he explains.
The DSF is frustrated with minimal efforts at the state and federal level to adequately fund such restoration efforts. However, Sprangers has high hopes for a more involved generation to come. Being a teacher at his local high school, Sprangers gets many students involved in volunteering at DSF by clipping the adipose fin of adolescent salmon as a tag to monitor the fish as adults.
“My students’ hard work, positive attitudes, and habitat restoration success is what keeps me going. My students are the next generation of stewards who will carry on the restoration and care of natural systems and species,” Sprangers said.
There is even more worry this year regarding the Trump administration and their environmental laws. The modernization, or weakening, of the Endangered Species Act that the Trump administration may enact to accomplish could be detrimental to all wildlife and to the decades of work done by organizations like DSF.
“Once these populations are sustainable, they can be removed from ESA protection, and sport fishing can resume,” Sprangers stated. “If the Trump administration weakens the ESA, I do not know what that means for salmon and other endangered species. This worries me”.
With all of the dedication and passion for restoring the Atlantic salmon population, the future is bright for the workers of the Downeast Salmon Federation. Many people like Donald Sprangers will conquer great environmental obstacles and restore faith in achieving a healthy planet.