June 25, 2018
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Anglers oppose cancellation of salmon season

By John Holyoke, BDN Staff

Late last week, as anglers organized their fly boxes in preparation for the impending Atlantic salmon season on the Penobscot River, federal and state officials met to discuss the monthlong catch-and-release fishery.

When the dust settled, the state’s Atlantic Salmon Commission had backtracked on the season it had originally approved, and the season had been scuttled.

Federal agencies are working on a regulation that will likely list the population of Atlantic salmon in the Penobscot as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

And while the feds didn’t have time to complete their work on that regulation in time to quash this year’s salmon season, officials found other ways to make their feelings known at the state level. Meetings were held. The season was scrapped.

And many anglers are angry.

Some don’t like the back-alley manner in which the decision seems to have been reached. Some don’t like the last-minute nature of the season’s cancellation. Others simply say that viewing the Penobscot River’s returning salmon — more than 2,000 came back to spawn in 2008 — as a wild run is ignoring more than 100 years of intense stocking that have taken place.

I asked you, the readers, what you thought. As I suspected, you were more than willing to sound off.

Here, edited at times for space or clarity, is a sample of what you had to say.

— From AnneMarie Messer, the secretary of the Eddington Salmon Club:

“I am truly saddened to hear about the upcoming salmon season. My father is 75 years young and he had gotten me a fly rod for fishing with him this year in the Penobscot River. I had been practicing all year long for this special event that I could share with my dad. Now, for some unknown reason the federal government and also the state has chosen to close this river to salmon fishing.”

Messer cautioned anglers who might be targeting other species to take special care of any salmon they might inadvertently catch, but thinks her opportunity to fish the river with her dad might be lost forever.

“If the salmon goes to the endangered species [list] I will never again be able to fish with my dad in the Penobscot River, as 10 years from now he will be 85 if he is truly blessed to still be alive,” Messer wrote.

— From Douglas “Cap” Introne of Orono:

“How do I feel? I feel like I want to cry and punch somebody in the face, all at the same time.”

— From angler Eric Kaye of Massachusetts, who traveled to the Penobscot to take part in the 2008 spring season, and planned to do the same this year:

“I was about 25 years old when I first fished for Atlantic salmon on the Penobscot. I didn’t get one, though I fished hard. The majesty of the river and river-bank conversations and ensuing friendships with experienced fishermen, who were extremely helpful and universally kind to me in my quest for that first fish sparked a lifelong live of salmon fishing,” Kaye wrote.

“It’s hard to explain how disappointed I was when I heard the current season had been cancelled. A small group of us, two experienced and one new salmon fisherman, were supposed to drive from our home base in western Massachusetts,” he wrote. “I had planned the trip as early as last June, including mandatory stops at L.L. Bean and Hachey’s Fly Shop, meals at a fantastic local diner, rooms at a nearby motel, etc. I’ll miss that but most of all the fishermen I’ve come to know and respect over the years.

“The frustrating thing is there does not appear to be a compelling reason for the closure. According to reports I have read, there was no salmon mortality observed from last year’s monthlong catch-and-release season, though about 50 fish were landed and numerous others hooked and lost,” Kaye wrote. “The inevitable conclusion is the closure was not for the welfare of the fish. There appears to have been almost no thought given to the decision at the state level where the governor claims to have been overwhelmed by the H1N1-A flu crisis [and could not comment on the salmon season], and no credible reason given at the federal level where the decision originated.”

— From Lou Horvath of Holden, a longtime member of the three local salmon clubs:

“I challenge the closure of the May Atlantic salmon season by the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission as capricious and unlawful as guaranteed by our state and national constitutions.

“An open Atlantic salmon season was established at a duly advertised meeting during which time all interests were heard and subsequently voted upon and approved,” he wrote. “My concern is with an alleged meeting held on Friday, April 24, 2009, someplace in Maine during which a decision to close the duly established Atlantic salmon catch-and-release season was held. There had been no legally advertised meeting date at which this decision was made, hence our guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was infringed.”

— From Phil Emery of Brewer, a longtime salmon angler:

“You wanted short and sweet [comments]: ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’” Emery wrote. “The season that was going to be was more symbolic than anything else. I believe we need [the season] so the aforementioned adage does not occur.”

— From Woody Higgins, former president of the Veazie Salmon Club and chair of the club’s board of directors:

“There is no such thing as ‘wild’ salmon as the Penobscot has been stocked for many years, probably around 100, with hatchery salmon, and the only way there will be salmon in the river is by stocking,” Higgins wrote.

“When the [Penobscot River Restoration Project] is finalized there is a good possibility of spawning salmon upriver but a stocking program is necessary for the foreseeable future. The presence of fishermen on the river fishing for salmon is necessary to keep the public interest in the restoration. Catch-and-release is a viable way to keep this interest. To designate the salmon in the Penobscot an endangered species is about the same as giving this designation to a farm-raised animal, and to close the short season is an insult to all the clubs and people who have worked to get this token chance to fish.”

— From Roger D’Errico of Hampden, a longtime member of area salmon clubs:

“I have said before and I’ll say it again: How can you call the Penobscot River ‘endangered’ when for the past 135 years or so the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in East Orland has been stocking the river … and more recently the Green Lake National Fish Hatchery?”

D’Errico says the years of stocking, along with the fact the vast majority of fish that return to the river are fish that were originally stocked there, makes discussion of “wild” fish less significant.

“If we would have had a spring fishery it would have been a hook-and-release [season] on returning Atlantic salmon that had been stocked two years prior from salmon raised at the Craig Brook hatchery,” D’Errico said. “At this point in time the Penobscot River does not support any kind of wild Atlantic salmon run.

“With all these facts known, why should the Penobscot River be listed as endangered? There is no biological reason to do so,” D’Errico concluded.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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