In his work as the director of the Department of Marine Resources’ Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries & Habitat (formerly the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission), Pat Keliher has grown accustomed to long-range planning and incremental progress.
Maine’ s Atlantic salmon stocks have struggled mightily over the years, and constant conservation efforts haven’ t always shown tangible results that many have hoped for.
On Wednesday, however, Keliher was happy to report that his staff was in the process of celebrating a milestone that has been years in the making.
“We just caught our 2,000th fish today,” Keliher reported at about 3 p.m.
Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries staffers tend the fish trap at Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River, where salmon are collected, tagged and either released or taken to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in Orland to serve as brood stock for future generations.
As soon as the fish trap began operation after May’ s heavy rains, the fish began returning at a record rate. And although returns have since fallen behind the pace seen in 1986 (when more than 4,000 fish returned to the river), recent rains have cooled and raised the water, and salmon have again begun showing up in the trap.
A total of 11 fish were trapped on Wednesday alone, bringing the year-to-date total to 2,002.
That marks the first time more than 2,000 fish have returned to the trap in 12 years. In 1996, 2,044 salmon were trapped.
Keliher is happy & but remains reserved.
“We’ re still cautiously optimistic, but it’ s nice to get numbers like that to build confidence with the crew,” Keliher said. “We’ ve been struggling with salmon, but it’ s nice to see all the hard work that we’ ve been doing pay off.”
Norm Dube, a biologist who serves as the environmental coordinator of the Atlantic salmon program, was excited about the recent run of salmon.
“Fish are back,” Dube said.
He said recent rains have played a key role in the latest run of fish, which followed nearly a month of much spottier returns.
On July 9, the fish count stood at 1,904 fish, and the water had warmed substantially. On that date, no fish returned to the trap — the first day since May 19 when no fish had been caught. Much of the rest of the month featured warm water, with few fish making their way up the river to the trap.
“The river’ s cooled off with a little bump of water,” he said. “It’ s 20.5 degrees [C] now, 69 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It was up to 25 [C]. That’ s 77 degrees [Fahrenheit].”
Dube said the crew that handles the fish at Veazie Dam began checking the trap twice a day late last week, as they do earlier in the year.
When the run petered out in early July, as the river’ s water temperature warmed, fisheries staffers had cut back and checked the trap just once a day.
Dube said that if the current weather trend continues, conditions would be adequate for the run of fish to continue.
“If we get cool nights like we had last night and the night before, when it was in the 50s, that helps a lot,” Dube said. “Sunny weather will warm it up a lot, but as long as we get the cool nights, it’ ll be fine, good for fish.”
Long Lake hearing set
For years anglers have headed to Long Lake in Aroostook County’ s St. John River Valley to target the plentiful landlocked salmon that live there.
Long Lake is one of few places in the state where you’ ve actually got a realistic chance to catch a 10-pound salmon, and each year plenty of massive, football-shaped fish are landed.
There are other fish in the lake, however, and a proposal making its way through the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife system deals directly with two of those.
The DIF&W has received a petition calling for some changes in the seasons for cusk and smelts in the lake.
The proposal: Allow fishing for smelts and cusk from sunset until sunrise between the time ice forms on the lake until March 15.
Fishing for salmon would continue to be allowed between Jan. 15 and March 15.
Long Lake covers 6,000 acres in Madawaska and St. Agatha and reaches a maximum depth of 163 feet.
Winter often arrives early in Aroostook County, and during some years the new rule would make it possible for anglers to fish the lake before the traditional Jan. 1 date observed on many other lakes.
If you’ ve got an opinion on the proposal, the DIF&W will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at the St. Agatha Knights of Columbus Hall.
Or, if you want to submit written comments, you can do so by contacting Andrea Erskine, DIF&W, 41 State House Station, Augusta, 04333. E-mail comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming up & bears, bears, bears
On Wednesday I had the chance to talk with two of the state’ s foremost bear experts, Jennifer Vashon and Randy Cross of the DIF&W.
I chatted with the biologists about a variety of bear-related topics, including suggestions that can help you avoid close encounters of the furry kind.
A lot of folks enjoy picking raspberries at this time of year & and so do bears. What do you do if you see one? What do you do to avoid seeing one? And what can you do around your house to avoid unwanted visitors?
Those are just a few of the questions Vashon and Cross will answer in Saturday’ s BDN.
They’ ll also give an update on the fast-approaching bear season, and a couple of changes that hunters and trappers may not be aware of.