Salmon Matter… All of Them
As part of a “citizen scientist” brook trout survey project sponsored by Maine Audubon, Maine TU, and MDIFW, volunteers fish coastal streams and rivers, some of which are home to Atlantic salmon, and record their catch. While artificial lures and flies are recommended, volunteers are allowed to use, and in some cases, encouraged to use, bait, something I challenged but to no avail.
During an outing to Downeast Maine, a volunteer posted a picture of a bleeding salmon on the grass that had been caught by one of the project coordinators. While said to be a landlocked salmon, upon closer inspection the fish was lacking a fin-clip, indicating it was likely an Atlantic salmon, and possibly a rare wild one. To risk killing any rare Atlantic salmon just to prove relatively common brook trout are there does not make sense.
“However, if you are unsuccessful catching trout with artificial lures, before you leave your survey site you may want to try using worms to assess whether brook trout are present.” — Maine TU Website
Endangered or Not?
The most glaring inconsistency in regard to Atlantic salmon management in Maine is that while the species is listed as Endangered at the federal level, and the only Atlantic salmon left in the United States are in Maine, they are not listed as Endangered at the state level. This includes both the Maine Endangered Species Act (MESA,) and the Maine Marine Endangered Species Act (ESA.) They are not classified as “Threatened” either. And amazingly, they are not even listed as a Species of Special Concern.
At the federally mandated Wildlife Action Plan level, Maine’s Atlantic salmon are listed as a Tier 1 Species of Greatest Conservation Need, two steps below Endangered, one step below Threatened, and the same status granted to Arctic charr, a Species of Special Concern. Per MDIFW, Arctic charr are not even rare, as NFC was asked to remove the word “rare” from a co-branded informational sign pertaining to such.
“If the number of moose or white-tailed deer in Maine numbered less than 100, it’s very likely that the regulatory agencies of Maine would list them as endangered. Why has the state failed to do the same for Atlantic salmon?” — Topher Browne, author of “Atlantic Salmon Magic”
To try to get everyone on the same page as Atlantic salmon enter their last lap, NFC, Maine NFC, DSF, ASF, Maine Council ASF, Union Salmon Association, Upstream Watch, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Elliotsville Foundation, former MDIFW Commissioner Ray “Bucky” Owen, former MDIFW Deputy Commissioner Matthew Scott, former MASC Biologist Edward Baum, retired MDIFW Fisheries Biologist Joan Garner Trial, PhD; retired Maine Department of Environmental Protection Biologist Mark Whiting, PhD; as well as authors Catherine Schmitt and Topher Browne, are petitioning MDIFW to list Atlantic salmon as Endangered at the state level.
“Wild Atlantic salmon once ranged across New England. Today, these fish persist in only a handful of Maine rivers and not enough is being done to bring them back from the edge of extinction. A state listing would help tackle a number of significant threats to the species that the federal listing has been unable to address for the last 20 years.” — John Burrows, Executive Director of U.S. Operations, ASF
Failure to Unite
Unfortunately, as is often the case when it comes to fish, some conservation groups in Maine, including Maine Audubon, Maine Rivers, and Natural Resources Council of Maine, refused to sign on, opting instead to take a wait-and-see, or a less effective lone wolf approach, submitting letters of support after the fact at best. Do these groups not believe Atlantic salmon are endangered? Do they feel that the Maine ESA process doesn’t work? Or are they just afraid to get involved in something that is certain to be contentious?
The Maine TU State Council was unable to gain consensus two weeks after being asked to sign on. They said they needed a “few months” to “understand all the ramifications of this and what are the positive and negative aspects of the listing since the species is already listed federally.”
Maine TU went on to say they “may be in a position to send a letter in support of your recommendation,” not sign on as a partner which would make a much stronger statement. Again, why? If Maine TU can’t support critically imperiled Atlantic salmon, what can they support? When approached to support the effort to list Atlantic salmon as Endangered at the state level, Jeff Reardon, National TU’s Maine-based representative, and Maine Brook Trout Project Director, deferred to Maine TU and would not take a position. Conversely, ASF and NFC, both of whom have a national and state presence, took positions at the national as well as state level.
The situation is best summed up by Emily Bastian, National Vice Chair and Maine Chair for NFC. If you accept the science behind Atlantic salmon, which is virtually unchallenged, and care about the species, I don’t see how anyone could feel otherwise. Hopefully, MDIFW and the Maine legislature will feel the same. If they don’t, countless dollars and immeasurable time will be wasted as agencies work against each other, and Maine’s most iconic fish, the “King of Fish,” slips into the abyss.
“Atlantic salmon are classified as Endangered at the federal level and are at risk of going away. The only Atlantic salmon left in the country are in Maine, yet the state has not listed them as Endangered at the state level. Listing Atlantic salmon at the state level would help protect this important natural resource, align the State of Maine with federal efforts to protect the species, and help conserve one of Maine’s and the nation’s greatest and most emblematic fish.” — Emily Bastian, National Vice Chair, NFC
As Atlantic salmon swim their last lap, we must ask ourselves: Could my favorite fish be next? What would the powers that be do if it were brook trout that were in trouble? Yellowstone cutthroat? Steelhead? Bonefish? Tarpon? Stripers? Would they band together and do everything possible to save the species? Or would they let turf, politics, personalities, paranoia, etc., get in the way of sound scientific decisions? Let’s hope you don’t have to find out.