AUGUSTA — Just more than two weeks before the 10-year anniversary of the removal of Edwards Dam, Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec River, as well as the Penobscot and Androscoggin rivers, were declared an endangered species by the federal government.
While state officials decried the listing as a potential impediment to the ongoing recovery of Maine rivers and development on their riverbanks, federal officials said the listing is part of efforts to help the imperiled fish species recover.
Atlantic salmon once returned by the hundreds of thousands to most major rivers along the Northeast. Now, they return in just small numbers, and only to rivers in Maine, including the Kennebec.
This year, nine Atlantic salmon have been counted in the fishway at Lockwood Dam on the Kennebec River in Waterville.
The Penobscot River, which saw a return of about 1,000 Atlantic salmon this year — and the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers, which together saw fewer than 100 of the fish return — join eight Down East rivers on which the Atlantic salmon was named endangered in 2000.
Gov. John Baldacci, in a statement released after the June 15 endangered listing, said the federal listing “hamstrings the state’s ability to use creative conservation efforts that have been successful in the past.”
Brownie Carson, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the listing on the Down East rivers has impeded neither conservation efforts nor development.
The Kennebec, he said, should be no different.
“The recent history, on the Down East rivers, is more federal funds have come to Maine to restore salmon,” Carson said. “The science and the law make a very clear and strong case this listing is appropriate.”
Bill Townsend, of Canaan, an organizer of the Kennebec River Initiative and strong advocate, 10 years ago, for removal of Edwards Dam, said he, personally, would have favored a “threatened” — not “endangered” — listing, as it would have provided protection with more flexibility.
Townsend said while it is too early to tell what the impact of the listing as endangered will be, he hopes the fish will make a comeback on Maine’s rivers.
“There’s no question this species is in an awful lot of trouble,” he said. “I hope we can all work together for restoration.”
Meanwhile, Baldacci said Tuesday that Maine expects to receive two federal stimulus grants, totaling $7.7 million for habitat restoration.
Baldacci’s office said that, according to federal officials, Congress approved $167 million for habitat restoration, which will fund 50 projects nationally.