Wild Atlantic Salmon in Maine Protected as Endangered Species
Wild Atlantic salmon in Maine rivers are at an all-time low and face a number of
threats that could drive them to extinction. As a result, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service today announced they
are listing the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The listing covers the wild population of Atlantic salmon found in rivers and
streams in Maine from the lower Kennebec River north to the U.S.-Canada border.
These include the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus,
Ducktrap, and Sheepscot rivers and Cove Brook.
Although significant progress has been made under the State of Maine's
conservation plan, disease and other threats remain, and the Act's protection is
critical to ensure the survival of these salmon, said Jamie Rappaport Clark,
director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Penny Dalton, administrator of
the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"Less than 10 percent of the fish needed for the long-term survival of wild
Atlantic salmon are returning to Maine rivers," Clark said. "Without the
protection and recovery programs afforded by the Endangered Species Act, chances
are this population will die out completely."
Federal biologists have found that small numbers of adult salmon are returning
to spawn, and young salmon in Gulf of Maine rivers are surviving at a lower rate
than expected. Spawning stocks of Atlantic salmon remain low throughout much of
their northern Atlantic range and are not expected to improve rapidly.
"The Services have a responsibility to extend Endangered Species Act protection
to Maine's wild salmon," Dalton said. "The State of Maine Conservation Plan
provides a foundation for the recovery effort, and, together with the Act's
protection, will assist recovery of this Atlantic salmon population."
The State of Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission halted salmon fishing nearly a
year ago in response to the low number of adult fish returning to Maine rivers.
"Today's decision to protect the Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon as an endangered
species acknowledges the seriousness of the salmon's status and our concern for
its future," added Dalton.
Three fish diseases threaten recovery efforts. Biologists have discovered the
salmon swimbladder sarcoma virus in Atlantic salmon raised at North Attleboro
National Fish Hatchery in Massachusetts. Biologists were forced to destroy some
of the broodstock to stop the potential spread of the disease. Additionally,
infectious salmon anemia, though not yet detected in U.S. waters, could spread
to the Maine population from nearby Canadian waters. Finally, coldwater disease,
a bacterial disease, has recently been found to be a potentially serious problem
for these fish.
Interbreeding with and competition from escaped farm-raised salmon from Maine's
aquaculture industry also threaten the wild salmon population in the Gulf of
Maine. The industry has expanded its use of European salmon strains. In addition
to the continuing escape of sub-adult salmon from sea pens near the mouths of
wild salmon rivers, there is evidence that farm-raised juvenile salmon have
escaped from private hatcheries located on rivers supporting the wild salmon
The Services proposed to list the Atlantic salmon as endangered in November
1999, after a biological study, the "Status Review for Anadromous Atlantic
Salmon in the United States," concluded that Atlantic salmon in several Gulf of
Maine rivers--the last known naturally reproducing Atlantic salmon population in
the United States--had reached dangerously low levels.
Protection under the Act means it is now a federal violation to take salmon in
the eight rivers. "Take" means to harass, harm, pursue, trap, capture and
collect. While the Services expect the listing to have an overall minimal impact
on most Maine residents, they will continue to work closely with those affected
by this decision.
The wild population of Atlantic salmon found in the eight rivers in Maine are
referred to as the Gulf of Maine "distinct population segment" (DPS). The Act
permits listing of a population segment if it is discrete and significant, and
found to be endangered or threatened.
The Act directs federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of listed
species. Proposed federal projects and actions, including activities on
non-federal lands that involve federal funding or permitting, require review by
the Services to ensure they will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of
listed species. Once a species is listed, all protective measures authorized by
the Act apply to the species.
The Services will develop a recovery plan to rebuild the wild Atlantic salmon
population so the species no longer needs Endangered Species Act protection. The
recovery plan will address threats such as disease, competition from or
interbreeding with aquaculture escapees (especially non-North American farmed
fish), predation, and modification to salmon habitat.
"We expect the recovery plan to grow out of the existing State of Maine
Conservation Plan," Clark said. "It will be developed in partnership with State
officials, Native American tribal officials, watershed councils, conservation
organizations, Maine industries, and others in Maine who have an interest in the
fish and the rivers. While the recovery plan is being developed, we will
continue to work with state, tribal and local experts on a variety of salmon
Additional information is available on the Internet at this site:
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