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Updated: September 27, 2023

Restoration of Atlantic salmon habitat in Maine is priority of NOAA grant

fish swimming in group Courtesy / Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Efforts are underway to restore Atlantic salmon habitat in Maine.

Four organizations will receive a total of $1.2 million from the federal government to help restore habitats for endangered Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine.

In addition to making ecological improvements, the restoration projects are expected to produce other benefits, including better public safety, greater opportunities for recreational and commercial fisheries, and job creation in rural parts of the state.

The money comes through the National Marine Fisheries Service, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Gulf of Maine has a distinct population segment of Atlantic salmon that is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Considered an iconic species of the Northeast, they once returned by the hundreds of thousands to most major rivers along the northeastern U.S. 

Today they only return in small numbers to rivers in central and eastern Maine. The species has been listed as endangered since 2000 due to threats from dams, pollution, and historic overfishing.

Atlantic salmon are vulnerable to many stressors and threats, dams and culverts that block or impede the migratory movements between freshwater spawning and rearing habitats and the marine environment, habitat degradation, foreign fisheries and poor marine survival. 

They are considered an indicator species or a “canary in the coal mine,” which means that the health of the species is directly affected by its ecosystem health. When a river ecosystem is clean and well-connected, its salmon population is typically healthy and robust. When a river ecosystem is not clean or well-connected, its salmon population will usually decline.

Habitat restoration helps repair areas that have been destroyed by development, blocked by dams, or otherwise subjected to habitat destruction. 

The funding will support four ongoing habitat restoration efforts:

  • The Atlantic Salmon Federation, which has a location in Calais, will implement five projects to restore access to Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing habitats in the Kennebec River watershed. It will also conduct a fish passage feasibility study at the Chesterville Wildlife Management Area Dam on Little Norridgewock Stream. ($50,000)
  • Project SHARE in Eastport will replace undersized culverts at 13 sites, connecting habitat for Atlantic salmon across the Dennys, Machias, Pleasant, Union and Narraguagus River watersheds. It will also conduct fish passage feasibility studies at the Great Works Dam and at Marion Falls fishway; and support freshwater habitat restoration work in the Narraguagus River watershed. ($264,000)
  • The Nature Conservancy, a national nonprofit headquartered in Arlington, Va., will complete final designs to remove Guilford Dam and restore the adjacent floodplain, which will reconnect habitat for Atlantic salmon in the Piscataquis River watershed. It will also restore access to high-quality habitat by improving fish passage at three high-priority road crossings over streams. ($605,000)
  • The Downeast Salmon Federation in Columbia Falls will support fish passage feasibility studies at the Cherryfield Ice Control Dam on the Narraguagus River and the Gardner Lake Dam on the East Machias River, to support future habitat restoration in these watersheds; and will support fish passage improvements at the Gardner Lake Dam. ($277,000)

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