Any optimism that flowed from Maine’s experimental Atlantic salmon fishing season has to be tempered by a sobering new analysis that shows this magnificent fish remains in deep, deep trouble.
The report also calls into question the decision to exclude salmon inhabiting the upper Kennebec, Penobscot and the Androscoggin rivers from the endangered species designation protecting the runs further east. The new analysis shows the fish in the bigger, more westerly rivers are genetically similar and are likely the same subpopulation.
Salmon advocates argued that all Maine salmon should have been considered one population from the beginning.
The state opposed the 1999 ESA designation. Hopefully, the state will carefully consider the new information if and when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers expanding the runs of fish protected under the ESA.
Fortunately, the strategy most likely to help the salmon is one that the state and conservationists agree on. It’s the Penobscot River Restoration Project, an ambitious proposal to rip down two hydroelectric dams and decommission a third that block access to more than 500 miles of salmon spawning habitat in the Penobscot’s upper basin.
The project has won support of the dam owner, PPL, with salmon advocates agreeing to not oppose expanded hydropower impoundments elsewhere in the basin.
But the project needs the kind of money only Washington can provide. A unified state voice will be needed to secure it.
State officials say they prefer collaboration to confrontation. This project will give them ample opportunity to demonstrate that commitment.