John Carlucci (left) and Mitch Simpson, biologist, move an Atlantic salmon to a holding tank to take samples at the Milford Dam fishway at Brookfield Energy in Milford in 2015. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

When fish lifts in Milford and Orono closed for the season Nov. 13, the Maine Department of Marine Resources reported that a tentative total of 1,196 Atlantic salmon had been counted at those facilities this year — the largest number counted in eight years.

Jason Valliere, a marine resource scientist for the DMR’s Division of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat, said that 1,152 salmon were captured at Milford and 44 were captured in Orono. The trap counts do not reflect the exact total of fish that returned to the river, he said, because some simply did not move into the fish lifts and avoided capture.

“Please note this is the estimated trap return to the Penobscot and not the final estimated return to the river,” Valliere said. “[Salmon] redd count data will be added this winter and the final estimate will be reported in the 2020 U.S. Salmon Assessment Committee Report.”

That report will be released early in 2020.

Salmon redds are depressions in the river bottom made by female salmon during the egg-laying process and serve as further evidence of actual spawning salmon.

Valliere said one fish was caught between his Oct. 29 report and the closure of the fish lifts. Alert readers of his regular reports may have noticed that the seasonal total did not increase by one after that fish was caught. That’s because one previously caught “Atlantic” salmon wasn’t an Atlantic at all.

“One of the grilse that was sent to Craig Brook hatchery for broodstock was genetically identified as being a landlocked salmon,” Valliere said. “After reviewing the fish’s scale, it was determined to be a 3-year-old hatchery [fish] stocked by [the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife] in the spring of 2016 that did not suggest an anadromous history.”

That fish will be reintroduced into the Penobscot with post-spawn broodstock Atlantic salmon in December, according to Valliere.

Grilse are Atlantic salmon that have spent just a single season at sea before returning to a freshwater river. They’re smaller than fish that have spent multiple winters at sea and can be mistaken for large landlocked salmon.

The 1,196 Atlantic salmon captured is the highest total recorded on the Penobscot since 2011, when 3,125 salmon were captured at fish-counting facilities.

Atlantic salmon are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in all Maine rivers, and fishing for them is prohibited.

Landlocked salmon do not return to the sea and are considered a freshwater fish. They can be fished for, caught and kept in many Maine lakes and rivers.

Watch: Salmon restoration efforts in Piscataquis River

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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...