Reviving A Salmon River In Downeast Maine
Once upon a time the United States could boast of having rivers from the Canadian border all the way down to Long Island Sound with abundant runs of Atlantic salmon. In 2010 the total run of U.S.salmon, to but a handful of those rivers, was a mere 1,650 fish, less than 1% of the historic run..
The situation improved slightly in 2011, as was the case on most salmon waters throughout the North Atlantic region, but still the situation remains dire. The only significant run of salmon is on the Penobscot River, Maine, and that run averages 1,500 fish each year. There are some small rivers in the northernmost region of the state, Downeast Maine, that still have a few returning salmon to spawn. Their numbers are very small and below sustainability.
All that could soon change as NASF is proud to announce that it is working on a project to revive one of those small rivers, the East Machias, in partnership with a local grassroots conservation group, The Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF).
Using the DSF’s new hatchery on the banks of the river some 80,000 juvenile salmon are being grown to the parr stage for release in October this fall. This figure could rise to 400,000 over the next few years. The stocking work is based on methods used on the River Tyne in England by Peter Gray, manager of the Keilder Hatchery. Peter has been coaxed out of retirement to advise us on this project, so hopes are high that the success gained on the Tyne can be replicated on the East Machias, and possibly beyond in the future.
The East Machias looks to be a perfect laboratory in which to test these methods and build a meaningful run of salmon. This little river lies in a remote area about 30 miles from the border with Canada, has reasonably good habitat including sizeable lakes along its lower course, and still gets a modest run of salmon.
Currently almost 12 million of the juvenile salmon stocked into U.S. rivers annually are fry that have just used up their yolk sacs. These feeble fish are put into frigid rivers in the spring where they must immediately find food or die. Statistics show that most die or are eaten by predators. By following Peter Gray’s methods and introducing our fish as 0+ parr in the fall their survival rate should increase considerably.
The Tyne was so badly polluted in the past that by the 1960s the river was virtually devoid of salmon. Peter Gray’s stocking methods for the river re-built the run and the Tyne is now the most productive salmon fishery in England & Wales. Last year saw a rod catch of 5,500, better than many rivers to the north in Scotland! It was a remarkable turnaround that we intend to emulate on the East Machias.
If you’d like more information about this project please send an email to NASF’s representative in the US, John Ashton (email@example.com). There is a lengthy Project Description with all the details we would be glad to send to you.
You might also be interested in a new book written by Peter Gray in which he explains his stocking approach and the success on the Tyne. Swimming Against the Tide (Medlar Press, 2011), It’s a fascinating book and can be ordered at www.medlarpress.com