A coalition of conservation groups, including the Atlantic Salmon Federation, has recently urged the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIF&W) to add the Atlantic salmon to the state’s list of endangered species. The Atlantic salmon has been listed and protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act since 2000. Once the salmon was federally listed, recreational fishing was prohibited.
This prohibition of even catch-and-release fishing of the salmon has long been a thorn in the sides of anglers, including the Veazie Salmon Club. The club, which overlooks the Penobscot River where large salmon runs once captivated anglers, has continued to argue that the salmon should have been down listed to threatened species. This would have allowed recreational catch-and-release fishing.
Club President Any Fitzpatrick says, “Over the past 20 years, Maine’s neighboring states and provinces developed conservation methods aimed at balancing their salmon population challenges while respecting and supporting the socioeconomic benefits of hosting recreational salmon fishing. Recreational Atlantic salmon fishing in neighboring states and provinces is well controlled in order to protect the fisheries. Year over year their businesses associated with recreational salmon fishing have enjoyed millions of dollars of revenues.”
John Burrows of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, which supports the state listing, contends that a state listing would force state-level habitat improvement and a rethinking of state fish stocking programs that he says affect Atlantic salmon habitat.
Stakeholder conflicts aside, this is a complex issue with potentially far-reaching implications. Bob Mallard, executive director of the Native Fish Coalition and a strong proponent of the state listing, insists that MDIF&W must take a more active role in Atlantic salmon restoration. He doesn’t get specific. The federal government has allocated millions and millions of dollars in restoration efforts with precious little return on their money. Maine is broke. It is doubtful that it is in a position to underwrite Atlantic salmon restoration.
Mallard does raise an interesting point, however. He says, “By refusing to do everything we can, Maine is lengthening the duration of the federal restrictions.” This would be a persuasive argument for the state listing if it can be supported by a compelling proposal or game plan that does not involve significant outlays of state fish and wildlife dollars. In other words, how would state involvement hasten the day when the salmon could be down listed to threatened species?
Fitzpatrick says, “Under the Threatened Species Listing, the potential opportunity for trialing a well-managed catch and release program could be available. A limited catch and release program emulating those already successful in neighboring waters would provide invaluable biological data while enhancing and bringing attention to Maine’s river communities. Let’s use this new recreational catch and release fishing data to further validate the success of the millions of dollars invested in Atlantic Salmon plus help gauge the health of our waterways.”
The fisheries folks at MDIF&W have yet to respond to the request for a state listing of the salmon. If we have learned anything over the years in Maine, and elsewhere, it is that these federal listings under the Endangered Species Act are invariably far-reaching and loaded with spin-off implications, many of which defy the most thorough risk/reward analysis.
The first question that comes to mind for the state’s angling community is this: What would be the impact of a state listing of Atlantic salmon as an endangered species upon our well-established and professionally managed and stocked freshwater sport fishery?
Hopefully, MDIF&W will not jump on this bandwagon without a lot of careful thought and study.