JOHN HOLYOKE

Penobscot salmon returns among the best in last 30 years

Posted Nov. 04, 2011, at 12:52 p.m.

For the past several months folks interested in Atlantic salmon restoration have watched enthusiastically as updated reports showed that this year’s return of adult fish to the Penobscot was among the best ever recorded.

On Monday, crews from the Maine Department of Marine Fisheries’ Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat closed the fish trap at the Veazie Dam and, shortly thereafter, biologist Oliver Cox compiled a glowing final report.

The final tally, Cox said in an email, was 3,124 salmon. Here’s some of what he had to say in that final report:

“In October DMR crews handled 58 adult Atlantic salmon at the trap, 15 were new and 43 were recaptures of salmon previously released to the Penobscot River,” Cox wrote. “The last new salmon was handled on Oct. 20 and the last recaptured salmon was handled on Oct. 26.”

During the beginning of the run, most fish are taken to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in Orland, where they serve as brood stock for future generations. Later in the run, after a hatchery quota is reached, fish typically are transported upriver and released to swim free.

“Overall, the grilse, or 1-sea-winter salmon accounted for 24 percent of the run. That happens to be the long-term median as well,” Cox wrote. “The remaining [76] percent were mostly multi-sea-winter returns; however, we have not completed our scale analysis yet to know how [many] repeat spawners there were. To date we have identified eight repeat spawners. We have also identified 183 wild/naturally reared returns.”

Cox said that this year’s run put it in good company historically. To put his historic data in context, however, it’s important to realize that the Veazie salmon trap has been in operation only since 1978.

“It was an exciting season on the Penobscot River,” Cox summed up. “Since 1978 there have been only two seasons when more Atlantic salmon were handled at the trap (1986 and 1982),” Cox wrote. “When considering total returns (Veazie trap count plus documented rod catch in years when angling was permitted), this season ranked seventh behind the years 1986, 1982, 1990, 1981, 1985 and 1980. We just squeaked ahead of 1989, when 3,120 salmon were documented.

“It has been over 20 years since we have had such a large number of returns,” Cox wrote.

As one who has kept a close eye on the trap totals and eagerly awaited Cox’s regular updates, today stands out as a bright day for those who think salmon conservation is a worthy goal.

Unfortunately, come next spring we start from zero again. “Recovery” is not a one-year process, after all. Only after several good — and, one hopes, better — years can we truly say that progress is being made.

For now, however, we can sit back and relish the fact that for a single year, at least, things are looking up. And we can look forward to watching the 2012 tally when staffers start tending the trap again in the spring.

Coming up in BDN Outdoors

On Thursday, I spent a few minutes chatting with a Montville hunter who bagged the deer of a lifetime earlier this week. Sorry for the shameless tease, but you’ll have to wait until next week to get a gander at this truly impressive deer.

For now, I’ll simply tell you this: The deer weighed 253 pounds field-dressed and sported a 10-point rack. And the hunter had to engage in quite a waiting game with the burly bruiser before finally taking his shot.

Another thing to keep an eye out for: In the coming days and weeks we’re going to be adding even more blogs to bangordailynews.com, and I’m sure you’ll want to check them out. Included in those offerings: My own blog, which we’re calling “Out There,” is set to debut within a week.

If you’re an outdoor blogger looking to get your content seen by thousands, drop me a line and we can chat about hosting your blog at our BDN homepage. If your blogs aren’t about the outdoors and you still want to take advantage of the thousands who drop by our website every day, we’re still interested. Just call or email, and I can put you in touch with the right people.

Have a great weekend, and play safe!

jholyoke@bangordailynews.com

990-8214

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