AUGUSTA – Salmon anglers finally may get to scratch that seven-year-old itch to fish the Penobscot River this fall.
The Atlantic Salmon Commission voted Thursday to move forward with a proposal to open a stretch of the Penobscot near Bangor to Atlantic salmon fishing for one month this fall.
The commission soon will hold public hearings on the proposal to conduct a “limited, experimental open season” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 on the once-famed salmon fishery from just below the Veazie Dam fishway to the Penobscot Bridge that connects Bangor and Brewer.
Shortly after the required hearings, the commission will take a final vote on the plan. If the plan is approved as anticipated, fishermen could catch and release up to two salmon a day but would be restricted to using flies with single-pointed, barbless hooks. Only one fly could be fished at a time, and any hooked fish “must be released immediately without injury,” according to the language in the proposed rule.
The commission will schedule a public hearing on the proposed experimental season for this spring, perhaps in late April or early May. Commission members said the hearing likely will be held in the Bangor or Orono area.
Pat Keliher, executive director of the Atlantic Salmon Commission, said the staff and commission chose the more conservative approach of a fall fishery rather than opening parts of the Penobscot to angling in the spring, as many fishermen have wanted.
If the limited fall season is a success, the commission will revisit the issue for 2007.
“We want to see the biggest public benefit come out of this, but we have to take it at step at a time,” Keliher said Thursday after the commission meeting.
The Penobscot was closed to salmon angling in 1999 after dramatic declines in the Atlantic salmon population. The state has since spent millions of dollars – and made plans to spend many millions more – attempting to rebuild salmon populations in the river.
A unique coalition that includes hydroelectric dam owners, environmentalists, fishermen, the Penobscot Indians and riverside communities has developed a $50 million, multiyear plan to ecologically restore parts of the Penobscot River. The Penobscot River Restoration Project seeks in part to restore salmon-spawning habitat by buying and removing two dams and creating or improving fish bypasses at several other dams.
The Atlantic Salmon Commission’s decision Thursday is likely to appease, if not totally satisfy, fishermen who have been eager to reopen the Penobscot, which has a rich history of salmon fishing in the region.
Commission chairman Richard Ruhlin compared the experimental season to a child taking baby steps. The state is nowhere near where it wants to be on salmon in the Penobscot, Ruhlin said, but it is moving in the right direction.
Roland “Danny” Martin, commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said he wasn’t sure he would ever see salmon fishing again on the Penobscot.
“I just think this is a great moment and a really exciting milestone,” Martin said.
Anglers hoping to try their luck or skills at a Penobscot salmon will have to purchase an Atlantic salmon license first. The language of the proposed rule also would allow the Atlantic Salmon Commission to close the river to fishing at any point during the monthlong season “if it is deemed necessary to protect the resource.”>/p>