Wild Atlantic salmon returns to North America are disappointingly low this year, especially in the rivers of Maine. The Penobscot River, which is undergoing a major restoration program, had only 609 salmon return from their ocean migration by the end of August — the lowest number since the year 2000. This amounts to only 20 percent of the more than 3,100 salmon that returned in 2011.
The low return of salmon to the Penobscot is especially disappointing to the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), one of the partners in a coalition of conservation organizations, a power company, an Indian Nation, and state and federal governments. In June, this coalition removed the first of three dams from the Penobscot River as part of one of the biggest restoration projects in the United States. This project will open up 1000 miles of habitat to 11 fish species, including the Atlantic salmon, and help restore the whole ecosystem of the river, when all three dams are finally removed within the next couple of years.
“It’s in years like 2012,” said Sue Scott, ASF’s VP, Communications, “that people realize the significant importance of our conservation agreements with Greenland fishermen, who have not conducted a commercial fishery for wild Atlantic salmon since 2002.” The wild Atlantic salmon of the United States, which are all listed as endangered, migrate to the coast of Greenland to overwinter and feed.
In June 2012, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (made up of all North Atlantic countries concerned with wild Atlantic salmon, including the United States) negotiated an agreement with Denmark on behalf of Greenland to extend the suspension of its commercial salmon fishery for another three years, “This is time well needed until the fruits of restoration programs in the United States can be realized,” said Scott.
The decommissioning of the Great Works Dam, the first of the Penobscot River’s dams to be removed, began in June, in Bradley, Maine. A large crowd of politicians, state and federal government representatives, conservationists, naturalists, members of the Penobscot Indian Nation, and fishermen cheered from shore as a giant hydraulic jackhammer began removing the dam.
Scott concluded, “As reservoirs above dams heat up river water; removing these dams will result in cooler water temperatures. Free-flowing water will not reach such high temperatures – something that will benefit future generations of wild Atlantic salmon destined to return in hot and dry summers.”