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A record number of Atlantic salmon eggs were laid in the East Machias River last year, an indication that an eight-year effort to restore the endangered species in the river is paying off.
Biologists counted 61 redds, or nests that fish build for spawning, buried in several inches of river gravel spread between Crawford and East Machias. That’s six times the number of redds counted in the East Machias River since the Downeast Salmon Federation began tracking salmon egg nesting patterns there 20 years ago, said Dwayne Shaw, the federation’s executive director.
“This is just huge,” Shaw said. “A number like this hasn’t been seen in the river in decades.”
The federation counted 12 redds in 2016, four in 2017 and 10 in 2018. Over the past 20 years, the East Machias River on average has yielded about 10 redds a year.
With each redd containing about 4,000 eggs, the 61 redds are carrying about 240,000 eggs — enough, given the rigors of nature and the presence of predators, to produce about 2,000 salmon that will survive in the river over the next two years and become smolts, fish mature enough to go to sea, Shaw said.
Declared an endangered species in 2000, the Atlantic salmon is among the most challenging fish species for conservationists to restore to Maine rivers as the waterways recover from decades of industrial pollution. The salmon typically live about five years, spending the first half of their lives in fresh water before venturing to sea and later returning to spawn in the rivers in which they were spawned.
The record number of eggs laid in the East Machias River mirror recent conservationist successes on the Penobscot River, where the Maine Department of Marine Resources reported nearly 1,200 Atlantic salmon at fish lifts in Milford and Orono last year — the largest number counted in eight years.
The East Machias River is 35 miles long and runs from Crawford Lake to the estuary of the Machias River at the head of Machias Bay.
Downeast does not count or estimate fish populations in the East Machias, preferring to count redds, because it lacks adult-fish traps or other devices that the state has, Shaw said.
The Downeast Salmon Federation is a nonprofit organization that manages restoration efforts on nine Maine rivers.