Earlier this week, I received a pair of press releases that helped thaw the winter cold and put a smile on my face. Some of the good news came from close to home. Some of it came from hundreds of miles away. And both news items meant good things for Maine fish and fisheries.
News item 1: The Downeast Salmon Federation reported that just months after a dam on Smelt Brook in the town of Sullivan, tomcod had been detected swimming — and spawning — upstream of the dam site.
It was the first time in more than 50 years that the small fish had been able to swim freely that far upstream.
If you’ve read these pages before, you already know I’m a big fan of free-flowing waters and a supporter of attempting, when possible, to return streams and rivers to more natural states. The return of the tomcod, therefore, is a pretty big deal to me, and to fisheries conservationists. Come spring, the DSF thinks smelts may return to (oddly enough) Smelt Brook, and may also spawn in the tiny coastal stream.
News item 2: The Atlantic Salmon Federation released a report on Atlantic salmon harvest by Greenland fishermen, and that total — reduced as a result of an agreement between the fishermen’s union and conservation groups — was encouraging.
The total harvest was reported at 17.79 metric tons in 2018, the first year of the 12-year harvest-reduction agreement. That total represents about 5,270 fish that were taken.
But consider this: Over the previous five years, Greenland fisherman had harvested at least 27 metric tons of salmon per year. The highest harvest in that five-year span was a whopping 58 metric tons.
The reason that reduction in harvest level matters is simple: Atlantic salmon face enough challenges at sea, as they seek to eat, grow, and eventually return to their natal waters to spawn. The fewer of those fish that end up in supermarkets and on plates, the more there are to try to return to rivers, including those in Maine.
On Maine’s traditional salmon rivers, things have gotten so bad that Atlantic salmon in those rivers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. No fishing — not even recreational, catch-and-release angling — is allowed.
And right here in our backyard, on Maine’s top salmon river, just 774 fish returned to the Penobscot in 2018.
Scientists have estimated that 75 percent of the fish taken in Greenland are of North American origin. That’s why the prospects of an additional 5,000 to 10,000 fish being alive long enough to begin their return journeys to Canada and the U.S. is such a big deal.
Here’s hoping for more good news as 2019 progresses.
Fishing during the shutdown
The federal government has been shut down for nearly a month now, and with winter recreational opportunities taking center stage, I reached out to a state fisheries biologist to see if waters he oversees have been affected.
Specifically, I asked Gregory Burr of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife if folks could still go fishing in Acadia National Park during the shutdown. In addition, I wondered if national park rangers or Maine Game Wardens handled law enforcement duties on those lakes and ponds.
Here’s what Burr had to say:
“The waters in Acadia National Park are still open and to this point public access at the public launches on federal property have not been affected by the government shutdown,” Burr wrote in an email. “Access points at places like Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, Echo Lake and Seal Cove Pond are all still open.”
And as to law enforcement?
“Even though many are waters within federal land, if they are over 10 acres (Great Ponds) they are still state waters and under state jurisdiction,” he wrote. “Both game wardens and park rangers can check anglers for compliance but mostly our wardens handle the fish and game laws because the activity is being done on state property.”
Farther Down East, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, located in Baring and Edmunds, is not being staffed during the shutdown, but recreational visitors, including ice anglers, are generally welcome.
A notice on the Moosehorn website advises: “Where public access to refuge lands does not require the presence of a federal employee or contractor, activities on refuge lands will be allowed to continue on the same terms as before the appropriations lapse. Any entry onto Refuge System property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk.”
So there you have it. And now, a question for BDN readers: Have your recreational activities been affected by the federal shutdown? How? And how have you dealt with that inconvenience? Send your responses to the email address below; I may share some of those responses in a future column.