December 8, 2006

Atlantic Salmon Test’s Success Prompts Call for Spring Fishing Season


The Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission appeared open Thursday to a spring fishing season for Atlantic salmon after a successful trial this fall on the Penobscot River.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe recommended that a restricted spring season be considered, after the experimental fall season was deemed a success. The pilot catch-and- release program occurred without harming the salmon, officials said.

Lapointe, who is on the commission, asked the group's biologists to assess whether a spring season would harm the slightly more than 1,000 salmon that return to the river in the spring.

"I was extremely pleased how the fall season was put together and run. If we have a spring season, we should do it the same way," Lapointe said.

If biologists deem a spring season safe and appropriate, a public hearing will occur in the Bangor area at the end of February, said Pat Keliher, the commission's executive director.

Optimism prevailed even as federal biologist Rory Saunders presented a report, first released earlier this fall, that shows Atlantic salmon in Maine are doomed to extinction.

The report - titled the "Status Review for Anadromous Atlantic Salmon" - was prepared by a team of state and federal biologists. It recommends not resuming salmon fishing on this or other Maine rivers.

"Even with the most optimistic risk assessment, the chance of extinction still increases down the line," especially if recreational fishing is added to the equation, said Saunders, with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Saunders said the report will face a public comment period before the federal government decides whether to include all of Maine's Atlantic salmon rivers in the federal listing. He would not say when that could happen.

The report's findings suggest that a spring Atlantic salmon season might be the last chance salmon fishermen get on the Penobscot. The federal government could list the salmon as endangered and outlaw fishing on the river.

In 2000, Atlantic salmon were listed as endangered in eight Maine rivers and streams: the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Ducktrap and Sheepscot rivers and Cove Brook. The Penobscot River had been closed to salmon fishing for eight years.

The fall season was held from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and allowed for fly fishing only, with any salmon caught to be released in the water.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]