Wading in the Penobscot River about a quarter-mile south of the Veazie dam, Bob Milardo of Newburgh, a member of the Veazie, Eddington and Penobscot salmon clubs, was among a small cadre of anglers in search of Atlantic salmon at the beginning of the second annual experimental catch-and-release fishing season in this September 2007 file photo. Credit: John Clarke Russ

In the wake of the Feb. 12 release of the federal government’s Atlantic salmon recovery plan, which estimated that it would take 75 years for Maine’s salmon to completely emerge from Endangered Species Act protection, the BDN asked readers to share their thoughts on that plan and on Atlantic salmon recovery.

Among the caveats of the recovery plan: An annual cost of implementing “recovery actions” would cost $24 million per year on top of recovery efforts that are already covered by regular federal budgets.

Here’s a sample of reader responses, edited for clarity and length:

Fred Hartman, Whiting: Like many people, I strongly believe that Atlantic salmon will not come back as a fishery. I have said this for a number of years. Their numbers are below the threshold of recovery. This biological principle states that when a species has reached low numbers it is biologically impossible for it to recover to sustainable levels.

It is a waste of taxpayers’ monies to be given to groups, like the Downeast Salmon Federation, for so-called fishery restoration activities. Likewise, is there really sound logic behind all this dam removal to allow for sea-run fisheries to enter all waterways?

Dave Betts: I think it is worthwhile to keep a wide and long-term perspective given the environmental holes we have excavated over the past decades; basically my entire 70-year lifetime is a story of disappearing or reduced wildlife and degraded supporting habitats.

I wish it weren’t so but the reality is what it is. It WILL take decades to recover what has been lost. In the case of salmon at least, a start has been made. For many other non-game species that hasn’t happened yet.

Bill Cost: The listing of the salmon fishing of the Penobscot at this time, by the ESA, I feel is wrong and the Penobscot will never be as it was 150 years ago. I suppose the most important reason is due to the number of lakes, ponds and rivers, that are stocked and flow into the the Penobscot.

That being said it seems reasonable to have the ESA change the listing to “threatened.” Fishing would be fly-only, barbless hooks, [and] catch and release.

Lawrence Moffet: For the past 40 years I have [been] channeling all my fishing ambition into running big boats catching lobsters. I remain very excited and optimistic about what is happening in the Penobscot watershed. With the opening up of the river [ in the wake of the Penobscot River Restoration Project] 11 species of fish have access to over 1,000 miles of water. It is my belief that things are already changing rapidly. The amount of small fish is increasing more quickly than anyone could have imagined. We are seeing increased runs of river herring all over the area. The pessimistic estimate about Salmon recovery is just a guess and has no basis in actual science. I think that runs of Salmon and many other fish are going to increase very rapidly.

We now know that the river and the bay are not separate systems but are one and the same. When large numbers of Cod were spawning in the bay they depended on the river fish for their food supply. Two centuries ago when the river was dammed it cut off the food supply of the fish in the salt water. Something very exciting is going to happen right away. We have cleaned up and opened up the river and the ocean is responding. Salmon are important but so are all of the other native species.

Alan “Chubba” Kane: The plan says its an adaptive management plan. That is where I hope we can change or adapt to the science and work that has shown success in recovery. It has happened in other regions and rivers. The Downeast Salmon Federation hatchery on the East Machias River, right here in Maine, has shown increased survival and young salmon abundance, promising greater returns. The methods used in this hatchery need to be part of the plan. Liming and remitting the damage from acid rain results in more and healthier Atlantic salmon. Providing proper fish passage or even removing dams is an obvious positive step for all anadromous fish. Cleaning up the rivers and streams and restoring habitat helps all outdoor life. We also need to be more forthcoming in what has caused salmon’s demise. When we address those problems, stick with real science and not politics, I am optimistic that we can achieve success. No. 1 problem is what is looking at us in the mirror.

Ed Baum, Hermon: Having been involved in the crafting of several Maine Atlantic salmon restoration plans for nearly 50 years, I am confident that the latest one will undergo many modifications during the next 75 years. Remember, the bald eagle was listed as endangered for at least 40 years.

It is clear to me as a fishery scientist that the major culprit in the decline of salmon runs is climate change. The freshwater and marine habitats for Atlantic salmon are not what they were 25 years ago. Spring now arrives weeks earlier and fall arrives later. The salmons’ entire ecosystem between here and Greenland is vastly different than it was in the last millennium. Consequently, Atlantic salmon restoration programs today are in uncharted territory.

Is it possible that we could return to the “good old days” when marine survival was 10-15 times higher than it is today? Possibly, yes. If the marine survival returned to the levels observed in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s Maine Atlantic salmon would be delisted under the ESA very quickly! On the other hand, could marine survival go even lower than it is today? Again, possibly yes. In either case, the answer should become evident sooner than 75 years.

Many biologists and fishery managers would also love to have the opportunity to fish for Maine Atlantic salmon again. While that is not possible under the Endangered listing, our best hope in the interim is to support the restoration plan to where the species could be classified as “threatened.”

I urge everyone to refrain from letting an arbitrary, 75-year period put a damper on our collective enthusiasm for the restoration of our magnificent Maine Atlantic salmon. Let’s support the latest federal services restoration plan and the many other stakeholders who are major contributors to a most worthy endeavor!

Avatar photo

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...