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Groups still want Maine state Atlantic salmon for endangered status

JOHN HOLYOKE Oct 16, 2020

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Atlantic salmon released into the Sandy River, a tributary of the Kennebec.

Groups still want state to consider Atlantic salmon for endangered status

After being rebuffed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Department of Marine Resources, a group of conservation groups and individuals is remaining steadfast in its effort to have the state conduct an investigation into whether Atlantic salmon deserve inclusion on the Maine list of endangered species.

In June, that group of 10 groups and six individuals wrote to the DIF&W seeking an investigation. However, a month later in July, DIF&W commissioner Judy Camuso and marine resources commissioner Patrick Keliher replied saying they didn’t think state listing was needed, citing ongoing federal Endangered Species Act protection for the species, and cooperation between state, federal and non-governmental organizations on salmon conservation efforts.

Atlantic salmon in most Maine rivers have been protected under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2000. Federal protection was expanded to all Maine Rivers in 2009, with the addition of the Penobscot, Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers. Among the results of the federal listing: Fishing for Atlantic salmon is not allowed on any Maine river.

“A recommendation for state listing of Atlantic salmon by [Department of Marine Resources] does not offer any conservation benefits beyond the existing protections already afforded by federal [Endangered Species Act] and existing state regulations. The listing does however cause a workload issue that does not justify the ends, absent any specific conservation or fiscal benefits, [Department of Marine Resources] has and continues to decline to list Atlantic salmon,” the commissioners wrote in the letter.

On Aug. 28, the group responded to that rejection with another letter, further explaining why it thought that state protection was essential.

“The undersigned groups and individuals believe Maine is not doing enough to prevent the extinction of this iconic keystone species. Our goal is to provide increased protections for Atlantic salmon to facilitate their recovery. While Atlantic salmon may technically fall under [Department of Marine Resources]’s jurisdiction, many of our concerns are specific to [DIF&W], including but not limited to the lack of a species-specific management plan, inadequate protections for individuals in freshwater, and ongoing stocking of competing and nonnative species in Atlantic salmon watersheds,” the group wrote.

The signatories seeking an investigation that could lead to inclusion on the state endangered species list: Native Fish Coalition Maine Chapter, Downeast Salmon Federation, Maine Salmon Federation, Maine Council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Union Salmon Association, Upstream Watch, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Elliotsville Foundation and Kennebec Reborn, former DIF&W commissioner Ray “Bucky” Owen, fisheries scientists Edward Baum, Matthew Scott, Joan Garner Trial, Mark Whiting and journalists Catherine Schmidt and Topher Browne.

Although Atlantic salmon have been protected under the federal Endangered Species Act for the last 20 years, the fish has been absent from the Maine state list.

Adding a state listing would help address ongoing threats to Atlantic salmon that the federal listing hasn’t dealt with, John Burrows, the executive director of U.S. Programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said in June.

“While some improvements have occurred, the stocking and management of non-native fish species in Atlantic salmon critical habitat remains a problem.” Burrows said. “In addition, there are virtually no protections in place for Atlantic salmon critical habitat. The federal definition of critical habitat includes only the wetted area of a river and stream and doesn’t include the riparian zone [close to the water] or adjacent upland areas.”