Not a lot of Atlantic salmon have danced off the end of my Sage 9-weight fly rod over the years, but just enough to make me a believer. There is no other angling experience quite like it! Not even the 64- pound Alaskan king salmon that a guide netted for me on the Kenai River outshined my first Atlantic salmon hookup on the fabled Upsalquitch River. There a battling 18-pound fresh-run fish took all my backing and left me with an angling memory that has never faded with time.
The days of recreational fishing for this king of game fish in North America may, or may not be, gone forever. The jury is still out. According to Andy Goode, a knowledgeable spokesman for the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), less than 2 percent of the salmon smolts released in the Canadian maritime rivers have returned.
The spring spawning run of Atlantic salmon up the Penobscot River has been disappointing for a number of years. Although a National Academy of Science report in 2005 showed that 80 percent of Atlantic salmon runs came into the Penobscot, the salmon count in this river so far this spring has been below 1,000. By comparison with much larger salmon runs on the Penobscot a mere decade ago, it is little wonder that the fish is federally listed as an endangered species. Despite all of the scientific good intentions, all of the tax money spent on salmon restoration over the years and the wishful thinking of recreational anglers, the facts fly in the face of optimism.
Nonetheless, there is still a glimmer of hope.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund announced in early June that they have signed a 12-year deal with Greenland’s commercial fishermen to protect North Atlantic salmon from commercial nets. Called the New Greenland Salmon Conservation Agreement, the “buyout” starts in 2018 and runs until 2029. During this time, according to Goode, there will be an estimated 6,000 to 9,000 adult salmon that will not wind up in commercial nets. A harvest by subsistence fishermen will still be allowed.
This latest buyout is the second attempt by the ASF to restore salmon runs by reducing Greenland’s commercial harvest. According to the Bangor Daily News, the ASF “opted out of a previous agreement because of concerns about the number of fish being taken by subsistence fishermen.”
This time around, according to Goode, there will be more rigorous accounting methods used to track the subsistence harvest of fish.
When it comes to understanding the causes of the decline of this marvelous wild fish, the calculus is complex. As Good notes, there is more to the problem than commercial harvest. The overall state of the marine environment is also part of the salmon restoration equation. Radio telemetry tracking of adult salmon may also give us some answers.
The good news is that the Penobscot River restoration is on the move, making it once again a more suitable spawning habitat if the Greenland pact works and the salmon do return in larger numbers. The other good news is that the estimated $4 million Greenland Pact will be paid for by private donations, not tax dollars.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation is worthy of our appreciation for its significant conservation efforts.