NOAA National Fish and Wildlife Service 2000-1113
Contact: George Lisles


Wild Atlantic salmon in Maine rivers are at an all-time low and face a number of threats that could drive them to extinction. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service today announced they are listing the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The listing covers the wild population of Atlantic salmon found in rivers and streams in Maine from the lower Kennebec River north to the U.S.-Canada border. These include the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Ducktrap, and Sheepscot rivers and Cove Brook.

Although significant progress has been made under the state of Maine's conservation plan, disease and other threats remain, and the Act's protection is critical to ensure the survival of these salmon, said Jamie Rappaport Clark, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Penny Dalton, administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"Less than 10 percent of the fish needed for the long-term survival of wild Atlantic salmon are returning to Maine rivers," Clark said. "Without the protection and recovery programs afforded by the Endangered Species Act, chances are this population will die out completely."

Federal biologists have found that small numbers of adult salmon are returning to spawn, and young salmon in Gulf of Maine rivers are surviving at a lower rate than expected. Spawning stocks of Atlantic salmon remain low throughout much of their northern Atlantic range and are not expected to improve rapidly.

"The Services have a responsibility to extend Endangered Species Act protection to Maine's wild salmon," Dalton said. "The State of Maine Conservation Plan provides a foundation for the recovery effort, and, together with the act's protection, will assist recovery of this Atlantic salmon population."

The State of Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission halted salmon fishing nearly a year ago in response to the low number of adult fish returning to Maine rivers.

"Today's decision to protect the Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon as an endangered species acknowledges the seriousness of the salmon's status and our concern for its future," added Dalton.

Three fish diseases threaten recovery efforts. Biologists have discovered the salmon swimbladder sarcoma virus in Atlantic salmon raised at North Attleboro National Fish Hatchery in Massachusetts. Biologists were forced to destroy some of the broodstock to stop the potential spread of the disease. Additionally, infectious salmon anemia, though not yet detected in U.S. waters, could spread to the Maine population from nearby Canadian waters. Finally, coldwater disease, a bacterial disease, has recently been found to be a potentially serious problem for
these fish.

Interbreeding with and competition from escaped farm-raised salmon from Maine's aquaculture industry also threaten the wild salmon population in the Gulf of Maine. The industry has expanded its use of European salmon strains. In addition to the continuing escape of sub-adult salmon from sea pens near the mouths of wild salmon rivers, there is evidence that farm-raised juvenile salmon have escaped from private hatcheries located on rivers supporting the wild salmon population.

The Services proposed to list the Atlantic salmon as endangered in November 1999, after a biological study, the "Status Review for Anadromous Atlantic Salmon in the United States," concluded that Atlantic salmon in several Gulf of Maine rivers – the last known
naturally reproducing Atlantic salmon population in the United States – had reached dangerously low levels.

Protection under the act means it is now a federal violation to take salmon in the eight rivers. "Take" means to harass, harm, pursue, trap, capture and collect. While the Services expect the listing to have an overall minimal impact on most Maine residents, they will continue to work closely with those affected by this decision.

The wild population of Atlantic salmon found in the eight rivers in Maine are referred to as the Gulf of Maine "distinct population segment." The act permits listing of a population segment if it is discrete and significant, and found to be endangered or threatened.

The act directs federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of listed species. Proposed federal projects and actions, including activities on non-federal lands that involve federal funding or permitting, require review by the services to ensure they will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of listed species. Once a species is listed, all protective measures authorized by the act apply to the species.

The services will develop a recovery plan to rebuild the wild Atlantic salmon population so the species no longer needs Endangered Species Act protection. The recovery plan will address threats such as disease, competition from or interbreeding with aquaculture escapees (especially non-North American farmed fish), predation, and modification to salmon habitat.

"We expect the recovery plan to grow out of the existing State of Maine Conservation Plan," Clark said. "It will be developed in partnership with state officials, Native American tribal officials, watershed councils, conservation organizations, Maine industries, and others in Maine who have an interest in the fish and the rivers. While the recovery plan is being developed, we will continue to work with state, tribal and local experts on a variety of salmon recovery strategies."

Additional information is available on the Internet at this site:

The final decision to protect the DPS of Atlantic salmon, including public comments and responses, will be published in the "Federal Register," available at or by writing to one of the addresses below. It takes effect 30 days from the date of publication.

Chief, Division of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
300 Westgate Drive
Hadley, MA 01035


Endangered Species Program Coordinator
National Marine Fisheries Service
1 Blackburn Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930

The National Marine Fisheries Service is the principal steward of the nation's living marine resources, protecting marine and anadromous species under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act. NOAA Fisheries develops and implements conservation and recovery plans and works to prevent species from becoming threatened or endangered. NOAA Fisheries also regulates the nation's commercial and recreational fisheries and manages species under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act throughout federal waters that extend 200 miles from the U.S. coastline. Using the tools provided by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NOAA Fisheries assesses and predicts the status of fish stocks, ensures compliance with fisheries regulations, and works to reduce wasteful fishing practices. NOAA Fisheries is an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA warns of dangerous weather, charts our seas and skies, guides our use and protection of ocean and coastal resources, and conducts research to improve our understanding and stewardship of the environment which sustains us.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the federal aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.