The effort to preserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon stocks has turned into something of a quest, and with good reason: There are now only about 600 wild salmon returning to Maine waters every year. Back in their heyday, Atlantic salmon ranged across all of New England, from the Connecticut River northward. Over the past 30 years, a combination of commercial overharvest, acid rain and disease has reduced the Atlantic salmon to an endangered species.
To help save this great game fish, the Outdoor Life Conservation Fund recently donated $10,000 to the American Forest Foundation’s (AFF) “Shared Streams” program. The AFF has joined forces with local private landowners and the Wild Salmon Resource Center (WSRC), in Columbia Falls, Maine, to restore sections of the Pleasant River where salmon could spawn in greater numbers were it not for siltation and habitat destruction. The AFF, which also is involved in restoration efforts on the Kenduskeag and Narraguagus rivers, serves as a liaison between local landowners and conservation groups, connecting the right people to the Shared Streams program.
“The cooperative three-party grouping of the AFF, WSRC and private landowners on the Pleasant River is essential to salmon restoration, and was something that was lacking in the past,” says Dwayne Shaw, watershed programs coordinator for the WSRC.
The restoration effort on the Pleasant River is intended in part to bring about a sustainable sport-fishery within the next 30 years. That may seem like a long time, but the minimal number of salmon necessary for a viable spawning run is roughly 100, and fewer than six adult fish have returned to spawn each of the past five years in the Pleasant.
“Some of the people who are skeptical about restoration ask if water quality and the impact of acid rain on smolt development will allow for a salmon comeback, but I think there’s a future sport-fishery on the Pleasant,” Shaw says.
“In rural economies there is often the strong misconception that dealing with conservation groups and land-use regulations will bring about a negative economic impact,” says John Burrows, the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s representative in Maine. “But if you can show that there are economic benefits of watershed restoration, such as sport-fishing, you can create incentives for landowner participation.”
The Outdoor Life Conservation Fund monies are being used to cover the costs of tree plantings, fertilizer, terrain grading, geotextile silt fences and other landscaping necessary to prevent erosion and siltation.