Atlantic Salmon Listed on Endangered Species List

November 14, 2000

Mike Johnsen

Atlantic Salmon joined other endangered species on November 13, 2000 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed wild Atlantic salmon as an endangered species. The listing was in lieu of objections from the governor of Maine, who sees the action as a threat to two other industries. Maine's aqualculture industry and blueberry producers face restrictions from the listing, and Maine Governor Angus King argued that it could cost jobs in the state.

Reuter's news service reported on November 14, 2000 that listing the wild Atlantic salmon "severely regulates the irrigation use of the rivers" where the fish spawn, reducing the amount of water available for the blueberry growers. John Ripley, a spokesman for King, also argued that impacts to Maine's aqualculture farms, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of the state's aquaculture industry, would occur since the listing would restrict the types of salmon that the aquaculture industry would be allowed to raise. Besides said Ripley, "Over the past 100 years or more, something like 100 million salmon have been reintroduced into Maine's rivers. There's no chance that the original wild strain could survive."

The state tried its own plan to save the species in the mid-1990s and federal officials recodnized that the state has made significant progress. Despite these efforts, however, "disease and other threats remain," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the Wildlife Service. "Less than 10 percent of the fish needed for the long-term survival of wild Atlantic salmon are returning to Maine rivers."

Indeed, due to the very low native population levels, the very survival of the species is threatened, according to Penny Dalton, director of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Both federal agencies say the listing covers the native population found in seven of Maine's rivers and one tributary.

Many of Maine's aquaculture farms use the rivers for their salmon hatcheries and federal officials are trying to prevent the farm-raised salmon from mixing with the wild population. In an indication of the severity of the problem, Federal officials documented the return of only one adult wild salmon in the Denny's River this year while recording 29 aquaculture "escapees." Federal officials from the Marine Fisheries Service would work with the farms to prevent "escapees" and to phase out the non-native stains of salmon. The farm fish compete for the same resources as the native fish, and can populate with the native fish. Unfortunately, the farm fish often have genetic irregularities such as mor passive behaviors or bent fins.

Congress has appropriated $500,000 for the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based National Academy of Sciences