EAST MACHIAS, Maine — Alan “Chubba” Kane doesn’t think people should need a passport to fish for salmon.
As the head honcho of the board of the Downeast Salmon Federation, Kane has been working for years to support ongoing efforts to restock Washington County’s watersheds with North Atlantic salmon. Fishing for salmon is an experience that attracts thousands of anglers to Atlantic Canada, Scotland and other destinations worldwide where salmon remain plentiful.
“We’ve set the bar pretty high, and we keep jumping over it,” he says of the Washington County-based organization, which funds a salmon incubator facility in East Machias. “We’re on the cutting edge of salmon hatcheries, and we’re getting inquiries from salmon advocates all over the world, including those involved with the Canadian rivers.”
Kane’s nonprofit group has spent two years and many thousands of dollars creating the East Machias Aquatic Research Center, which opened on the East Machias River after being retrofitted from a long-abandoned Bangor Hydro Electric Co. hydro-dam generating facility. The center now incubates tens of thousand of North Atlantic salmon from eggs, nine months later releasing them at “parr” stage — five to seven inches — into the remote watershed of the East Machias River.
“Our ultimate goal is to let Mother Nature do her thing,” he said. “We’re making a concerted and significant effort that’s needed to bring up the [young fish] population. I would love to reach the point where people say there are too many fish in the rivers.”
Kane said it would be two to three years between releasing juvenile salmon in the Downeast Rivers and seeing anglers landing them along the shores of rivers in Washington County.
“Catch and release fishermen are the best stewards and promoters of the fishery,” he said. “They’re not going to harm the fish. There will still be poachers, but people are excited about restoration. Catch and release is more promoted than ever. The picture of the catch is the prize and the thrill of it, not taking the fish home and eating it.”
As president of the Maine council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Kane lobbies for whatever financial support he can muster. The Downeast Salmon Federation’s programming is largely subsidized by donations, which he said seem few and far between in an economically depressed region such as Washington County.
“I had one potential donor ask me to send him a list of the corporate sponsors of the federation in Washington County,” Kane said Friday. “I said, well, we have a McDonald’s in Machias, but other than that there really aren’t any corporations.”
Over the past few weeks, the center’s fish biologists have introduced more than 50,000 young salmon into the East Machias rivershed, all of them tagged with fin clippings to identify them as progeny of the East Machias hatchery.
“I would contend that these are the healthiest fish that have ever been stocked in a Maine river,” Kane said. “You don’t need a passport to go fishing for salmon. This is great habitat that just needs more fish in it.”
North Atlantic salmon returns to Maine rivers for spawning have been poor this year. In the Narraguagas River the count was 200 last year; this year it was 18. Last year, on the Penobscot, the count was 3,000. This year it was less than 700.