May 20, 2018
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Rain may spur salmon back to trap

By John Holyoke, BDN Staff

We Mainers love our weather. Or, to be more precise, we love complaining about it. In fact, I’d say that many of us — most of, I’ve learned during my 46 years as a card-carrying, flannel-wearing Mainer — look at meteorological conditions the same way those bears in the Goldilocks fable did.

Some weather’s too hot. Some weather’s too cold.

And finding weather that’s “just right” for all? Well, that’s where the Goldilocks analogy falls apart.

As far as I’ve been able to figure out, virtually all Mainers will agree that a day is just right when the temperature is 74.2 degrees, the relative humidity is low, and a 3.6 mph breeze is blowing from the southwest. Unless, of course, that happens in March. Then it’s simply too hot, and we’re back to the drawing board.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard plenty of griping about the weather. You want too hot? How about 90 degrees for a week straight. Too cold? Well, I haven’t really heard that complaint too often recently but, as they say in these parts, wait a minute — it’ll change.

And over the past couple of days, I’ve actually heard people say that it was too thunder-y and lightning-y for their tastes. Rainy, too. Go figure.

There are silver linings to be found in our recent cloud cover, though. Think of the plants. Think of your thirsty lawn — just don’t think about having to mow it again. Think of the blueberries, for goodness’ sake. They were practically raisins (I know, I know: Blueberries don’t turn into raisins. Just work with me here).

Or, you can think of the salmon.

For much of the spring and summer, Atlantic salmon returned to the Penobscot River at a rapid pace that hadn’t been paralleled in years. Fisheries biologists had to put another truck into service in order to transport those fish to the hatchery, or to move them upriver.

A thousand fish showed up. Two thousand. And they kept on coming.

But as usually happens, conditions changed — and the salmon stopped finding the fish trap at the Veazie Dam attractive.

The key component: water temperature. According to biologists — well, they didn’t really say this, exactly — Atlantic salmon are apparently Mainers in good standing: They, if they could, would gripe about the weather, too.

When the Penobscot starts running warm — say, 70 degrees or so — they stop moving up the river. That happened a few weeks ago, and returning salmon slammed on the brakes. Biologists saw a few fish in the river, but not many were completing their journey to Veazie and beyond.

According to Oliver Cox, a fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat (formerly the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission), just three new salmon showed up at the trap in the 10 days ending on July 25.

That left the total fish count stalled at 2,916 salmon.

“We have seen several salmon downstream of the Veazie dam, so hopefully they will continue their migration once the water begins to cool down,” Cox wrote in his weekly report at the time, when the river was running 77-79 degrees.

Cox got his wish.

On Monday, Cox checked in with his most recent weekly report. “A little rain and a couple of cooler days and nights last week was enough to coax a few salmon into moving upstream,” he wrote.

Since his last report, fisheries staffers had captured 35 new salmon. That put the grand total at 2,951.

And it put the 3,000-fish plateau — which hadn’t been approached in the last 21 years — back within reach.

So, if you’re tempted to act like the rest of us Mainers and gripe about the thunderstorms that ripped through the region on Monday or the storms that drenched us on Tuesday, consider this: You might not like the weather. I might not like it, either. A bit too thunder-y. And lightning-y.

But the blueberries probably do.

And so do the salmon.


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