COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine — Thousands of North Atlantic salmon destined to be — or not to be — survivors in Washington County’s Pleasant River took up residence Tuesday at the Downeast Salmon Federation’s hatchery in Columbia Falls.
Nearly 8,000 salmon eggs harvested at the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in Hancock County were relocated Tuesday to the hatchery along the Pleasant River, with another 127,000 still to be delivered. The federation’s new hatchery in East Machias last week took in 30,000 salmon eggs and is expecting 60,000 more.
“Historically, since 1992, we’ve done about 50,000 eggs a year here on the Pleasant,” said Jacob van de Sande, a fish biologist who is the hatchery manager at both facilities. “And while we are doing a lot more now, it’s really not about how many fish are involved, but getting people involved in what we are doing to give them a sense of ownership of the river.”
The eggs provided without charge by the federal hatchery sustain themselves on a yolk sac until they hatch as ¾-inch fry and are released into the river the first week of May, when they will begin a diet of aquatic insects. “What we need to do until we release them is maintain the pumps and the water flow, pick out the dead eggs and watch for any kind of fungus that could infect the healthy eggs,” van de Sande said.
Once released, the tiny salmon will become prey for fish and fowl, including large- and small-mouth bass, chain pickerel, brook trout and birds ranging from great blue herons and kingfishers to mergansers and cormorants. Mammals are predators, too, including otter, mink and humans.
“As these young salmon mature, they change in appearance, and, at the parr stage, to an untrained eye, they can easily be mistaken for brook trout,” he said. “So fishermen wind up mistakenly taking home a bunch of young salmon, which is illegal.”
The salmon that survive, both in the Pleasant and East Machias watersheds, will live in those fresh water habitats for two to three years before heading out to sea to salt-water habitats as far away as Iceland. If nature is allowed to run its course, van de Sande said those that survive will return to Down East Maine waters as seven- to 10-pound fish.