Continuing efforts to help restore Atlantic salmon populations in Maine are receiving a boost thanks to $900,000 in funding awarded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King announced Tuesday that four organizations in Maine have been selected to receive money from the distribution to assist their efforts.
“Atlantic salmon are a critical part of our state’s marine ecosystem, but they are endangered and at risk of extinction,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “These fish help to ensure the health of our rivers and oceans that Mainers and wildlife depend on. We welcome this funding, which will help to conserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon and their ecosystems across the state.”
The Atlantic salmon, specifically the Gulf of Maine distinct population that has been protected since 2000 under the Endangered Species Act, is one of the most at-risk endangered species, NOAA reported. Only approximately 1,200 fish return each year, although as of Aug. 30 only 522 salmon have been counted so far this year at the Milford and Orono dams.
Opening passages to fish habitats will allow Atlantic salmon to migrate, reproduce, and grow their population, NOAA said.
“Salmon recovery involves restoring access to and quality of habitats important to salmon and other sea-run species that salmon depend upon,” said Sean Ledwin, the sea run fisheries and habitat division director for the Department of Marine Resources, which is charged with leading management efforts in the state. “These projects provide meaningful benefits to Atlantic salmon and other sea-run species by reconnecting rivers to the ocean and improving important habitats.”
Project SHARE, the Nature Conservancy, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Downeast Salmon Federation are the recipients of the funding, which targets Atlantic salmon habitat. However, other Maine sea-run species including river herring (alewives), American shad, sea lamprey and American eel also are expected to benefit from the work being done by those organizations.
“These projects in turn help support abundant resident and marine fish, birds and mammals, and provide communities with income from fisheries while improving infrastructure, safety, and open space for recreation,” Ledwin said.
The largest allotment from the nearly $1 million went to Project SHARE, which received $303,225. The organization is working on replacing undersized culverts at 13 sites designed to connect Atlantic salmon among different watersheds.
Project SHARE also plans to do feasibility studies for fish passage at the Great Works Dam and the Marion Falls fishway on the Cathance River. The group also is working on restoring freshwater habitat in the Narraguagus River watershed.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation’s $213,854 disbursal will be put toward five salmon spawning habitat projects, including four in the Kennebec River watershed, along with studying the feasibility of a fish passage at the Chesterville Wildlife Management Area Dam on Little Norridgewock Stream.
The Nature Conservancy received $250,000 to remove the Guilford Dam with the aim of reconnecting and restoring Atlantic salmon habitat in the Piscataquis River watershed and improving fish passage.
“Investments in the Penobscot and Kennebec Rivers watersheds are critical to restoring Atlantic salmon in the United States and rely upon safe, timely and effective passage at the large mainstem hydro-dams to realize the full benefits,” Ledwin said
The remaining $131,000 goes to the Downeast Salmon Federation to assist in its study about the feasibility of fish passages at the Cherryfield Ice Control Dam on the Narraguagus River and the Gardner Lake Dam on the East Machias River. Those are designed to support future Atlantic salmon habitat restoration in those locations.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the Atlantic Salmon Federation and incorrectly identified the locations of the Great Works Dam and the Marion Falls fishway, both of which are on the Cathance River.