Maine and Canada continue efforts to save Atlantic salmon runs, something N.H. has given up on 

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 04-09-2023 10:00 AM

Although New Hampshire has given up its efforts to return Atlantic salmon to our rivers, efforts are continuing in Maine and eastern Canada.

The federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ruled last week that one of the last wild Atlantic salmon runs in the country, on the Kennebec River in Maine, can coexist with four existing hydroelectric dams. Some groups have been trying for years to have some or all of the dams removed to help salmon and other fish make better use of the river.

The Kennebec dam is owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners, which is getting the four dams relicensed. As part of that process, NOAA said that the dams are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the salmon if measures are taken to let salmon swim up the Kennebec from the Atlantic Ocean to inland habitats, where they lay eggs. That hasn’t happened since the dams were built in the 19th century, the agency said.

Also this week, the nonprofit Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) said it has established its first three Wild Salmon Watershed programs, one each in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick. They are designed to help maintain existing watersheds that still have active populations of Atlantic salmon, which breed in fresh water but live most of their life in the ocean.

ASF has partnered with the University of New Brunswick to develop ecological forecasting tools that can predict how a watershed will be affected by climate change and future land uses. It is also creating maps that identify critical habitat and cold-water refuges to identify the most important areas for protection.

U.S. rivers are eligible for the assistance if they have self-sustained runs of salmon and active salmon fisheries, but none currently do.

Most of the group’s work in the U.S. is done under the Headwaters program, which focuses on removing barriers to fish passage and restoring damaged habitat. The group recently received a $7.5 million federal grant for this type of work in the headwaters of the Penobscot River in Maine.

Federal and state officials in New Hampshire tried for years to keep salmon runs going on the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers, raising salmon in hatcheries and transporting them around the many dams on both rivers, but those programs never succeeded and were abandoned in the past decade.

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