Salmon recovery: Is it worth it?

Nothing gets an angler’s heart pumping faster than the sight of an airborne Atlantic salmon dancing atop the water on a flyline. As a slack-jawed kid, I watched these goings-on at the legendary Bangor Salmon Pool. Later, as an adult, the late Tom Hennessey helped me land my first silver warrior at the Pipeline Pool in Eddington.

For me, there were other memorable salmon encounters on some of the fabled Canadian waters. Veteran salmon anglers will attest that there is no other fishing experience quite like a hookup on a mature Atlantic salmon. So, for those of us who have been there as well as those who long to be there, the decline of river-run salmon populations is sad to behold.

Will they ever be back in numbers that will once again allow us to fish for them?

In 2009, the government listed the Penobscot salmon as endangered and shut down all fishing for them. Since that time millions of dollars have been spent on stocking programs, habitat restoration and conservation agreements (harvest limitations) with commercial fishermen. Yet nothing seems to turn things around.

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released another in a series of “Salmon Recovery Plans.” The plan’s vision statement encompasses a 75-year time frame for delisting and a price tag of $24 million a year. Nobody I have talked with in government can tell you how much tax money has already been spent over the years in salmon recovery efforts.

Is it all worth it? A lifetime is a long time to wait for a chance to go fishing. Some argue, compellingly, that the listing itself is a sham, that there is no Distinct Population Segment of Penobscot Salmon, which is the scientific criteria required for a federal listing. So many generations of river-run salmon are products of hatchery rearing, the detractors argue, that the fish are no longer “wild and pure.”

Apparently, a federal reclassification of the Penobscot salmon from endangered to threatened might allow some recreational fishing. According to the Recovery Plan, the possibility of a reclassification is at least 10 years out.

Is it worth it? Anglers yet to be born may one day thank us, unless their country is bankrupt. And Mark Twain had a point: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.”


V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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