Federal agencies will hold two public hearings in Maine next week on a proposal to designate Atlantic salmon populations in the Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers as endangered species.
Atlantic salmon in eight smaller Maine rivers or streams already are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The current proposal would expand the protected population of Gulf of Maine salmon to include the state’s three largest rivers.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will accept public comments on the endangered species proposal, as well as a critical habitat proposal, during the following meetings:
– From 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, at the Augusta Civic Center.
– From 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, at Jeff’s Catering, located at 15 Littlefield Way in Brewer.
Federal biologists will hold informational sessions before both meetings from 6 to 7 p.m. Written comments can be submitted through Dec. 2 on expanding the endangered listing and through Dec. 5 on the Gulf of Maine critical habitat designation.
Eight years ago, the two agencies designated salmon in the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Ducktrap and Sheepscot rivers and Cove Brook as endangered. But federal officials did not issue a decision on the fish in the three largest rivers until earlier this year, despite pressure from conservation groups.
More than 2,100 searun Atlantic salmon were counted returning to the Penobscot to spawn this year, more than double the number in many years. Of those, 650 fish were taken as brood stock for the two federal salmon hatcheries in Maine, according to state statistics.
But 2,100 is still a fraction of the returns that biologists estimate would be needed for a self-sustaining population in the Penobscot, once one of North America’s famed salmon fisheries.
Penobscot salmon account for the vast majority of all Atlantic salmon returning to U.S. waters annually. Just 17 and 22 salmon were counted returning to the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers, respectively, so far this year.
An “endangered” designation could have an impact on a range of activities along the waterways, including hydro-electric dams, municipal waste-water treatment plants and industries that withdraw from or discharge into the rivers.
Such a designation would prohibit salmon from being harassed, harmed, pursued, wounded, killed, trapped, captured or collected without prior authorization or legal indemnification. Labeling Penobscot salmon as endangered also likely would end the catch-and-release fishing seasons that have been held on the Penobscot near Bangor in the fall or spring since 2006.