by Anne Ravana
Maine Public Radio news story
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service today extended endangered species protections to Atlantic salmon in the Penobscot, Kennebec, and Androscoggin rivers and their watersheds.
The news has not been well received by some Maine officials. The state’s Department of Marine Resources says it’s disappointed that federal officials have added Atlantic salmon from some of Maine’s largest rivers to the Endangered Species list.
“Basically two-thirds of the state of Maine will be part of what’s called the distinct population segment of Atlantic salmon that are listed under the Endangered Species Act,” says Pat Keliher, Director of the DMR’s Bureau of Sealand Fisheries and Habitat. Keliher says the new listing includes the historic salmon waters within the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot watersheds, as well as all their tributaries.
Keliher says the state would have preferred that the listing area be expanded but downgraded from endangered to threatened. “So we could use tools within the Endangered Species Act that are a little more flexible and give us the ability to use existing state regulations and statutes to continue to manage wastewater issues, forestry issues, hydro-power issues that are really front and center on these larger river systems.”
The Penobscot, Kennebec, and Androscoggin rivers are home to industries and hydro-electric dams. Another reason the state and federal government disagree on whether to list Atlantic salmon on those rivers as threatened is that they have different ideas of which fish to count. “It’s the federal hatchery policy that now is stating that the fish that are raised in the hatcheries, released in the wild and then return as adults do not count towards recovery. And we disagree very strongly with that policy.”
Keliher says that last year, more than 2,000 Atlantic salmon returned to the Penobscot River alone. The federal parties counted only 2,000 fish returning to all three newly-listed rivers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service says its process for collecting and analyzing data on Atlantic salmon in the rivers was thorough, and included an independent peer review and public hearings.
“We’ve identified three significant factors that are really driving this listing and those are dams, inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms for dams and low marine survival,” says Mary Colligan, a spokesperson for the National Fisheries Service. “We’ve looked at all the efforts being made to protect the species and there are significant efforts underway, but they are not enough to make the species not endangered at this point.”
Colligan says the federal government does not consider economic effects as a condition for listing, but does examine potential economic impacts as a result of listing. With listing comes the designation of critical habitat — areas essential to the conservation of a species and which may require special management or protection.
“For listing we cannot consider economic impact,” Colligan says. “For critical habitat, we consider economic impacts and the two activities that have been identified as the most impacted activities are hydro-power and development.”
Maine paper companies, water treatment plants and hydro-power producers have been among those urging the federal government not to add Atlantic Salmon from the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot fivers to the Endangered Species list. Salmon from eight downeast Maine rivers were listed eight years ago, and their recovery continues to be slow.
Gov. John Baldacci says he too opposes the ruling and hopes to work with federal officials to amend it. “We want to work with the federal government to restore the habitat and to make it even more viable for even more salmon on these rivers, but we need them to work with us. So we will be exploring all options, legal and otherwise, as to how we respond to this, but we will be responding.”
Not all Maine parties are opposed to the ruling. Staff scientists with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, for example, say their own data indicates the salmon in the Kennebec River are endangered.
The ruling will be published in the federal registry this Friday and will take effect 30 days thereafter. Atlantic salmon will then receive full protection of the Endangered Species Act, including a prohibition against take, which includes any harm, capture, or collecting of the fish. Calls to the Maine Forest Products Council and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine were not returned by airtime.