Atlantic salmon used to be found in U.S. rivers. However, they now only return from the sea and are found in a few rivers in central and eastern Maine. Under the U.S. Fish Protection Act, the fish are federally protected. Endangered Species Act. However, a coalition made up of scientists and environmental groups said that the fish would be better protected if added to Maine's endangered and threatened species list.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher is authorized by state law to make this recommendation. However, his office informed The Associated Press that he doesn't intend to. Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for the department, stated that the department has done extensive work in conserving and restoring the fish and that the commissioner "doesn't believe a state listing would afford additional conservation benefits and protections."
Environmentalists who want the fish to be on the state endangered list stated that they will continue to push for it and other protections. John Burrows, the Atlantic Salmon Federation's executive director for U.S. operations, stated that if the fish were added to the endangered list, salmon conservation would be considered a greater concern in state permitting processes.
Burrows stated that only a few rivers and the state of Maine have wild Atlantic salmon. It's something that should have happened, and should have occurred.
The U.S. has seen the disappearance of Atlantic salmon from its rivers due to pollution, damming and other environmental challenges. They also face climate change, which is threatening their survival. However, recent years have seen some positive changes in Maine's rivers.
In 2020, more than 1,400 salmon returned from the Penobscot River. This was the most since 2011, according to the Maine marine resource department. Penobscot is considered the most productive river for salmon. From 2012 to 2019, it averaged 700 fish per year.
The attempts to repopulate Atlantic Salmon in other states have been unsuccessful. The federal government ended an attempt to restore Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River basin in 2012 after several decades because of lack of success.
Many environmental groups have long aimed to get Maine's endangered fish on their list. The Maine Endangered Species Act contains 26 endangered species and 25 of the most threatened. This list includes the threatened swamp darter and the endangered redfin pickingerel.
This list provides state-level protection for endangered species. It is an addition to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. There are a few species listed on both, including the piping plumper.
An earlier bill introduced by the Maine Legislature that would have required that the marine resources commissioner recommend a state listing of any federally endangered or threatened species was supported by environmentalists. In June, the proposal was defeated in committee.
A group of 19 conservationists and scientists, along with 10 scientists and conservationists, wrote a letter to Maine stating that Maine is not one of the few states that does not recommend or mandate state-level listing for federally listed species. Dwayne Shaw is the director of Downeast Salmon Federation. He said that wildlife advocates will continue to push for salmon protections.
Shaw stated that there would be a lot of symbolism, but also direct implications and positive implications for the species.