NOAA USFWS Joint Atlantic Salmon Proposed Listing
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas


Based on biological evidence that wild Atlantic salmon in the United States are in danger of extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have jointly proposed listing the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. A species is designated as endangered when it is at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Earlier this month, the two services issued a report, Status Review for Anadromous Atlantic Salmon in the United States, concluding that Atlantic salmon stocks indigenous to Gulf of Maine rivers, the last known remaining naturally reproducing populations in the United States, remain at very low levels and face continuing threats.

Although significant efforts have been made to recover the species under the State of Maine's conservation plan, existing measures to protect wild salmon are no longer enough to ensure their survival, according to Jamie Rappaport Clark, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Penny Dalton, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"While Maine's existing conservation plan is vital to recovering the species, it doesn't adequately address the increasing threats salmon are facing from aquaculture, fish disease, habitat modification and catch-and-release fishing," Clark said. "It's time to consider tougher protective measures to ensure survival of the species. We will continue to work closely with the State of Maine, industry and the conservation community to protect wild salmon."

"Today's proposal acknowledges the biological status of the species and our concern for its future," Dalton said. "We must intensify our efforts to ensure juvenile and adult survival by providing suitable habitat, and we must remain vigilant in our efforts to address new threats such as those posed by genetic disruption and disease.

Federal biologists 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. They do not expect the situation to improve without further protections.

Three fish diseases threaten recovery efforts. Biologists discovered the salmon swimbladder sarcoma virus last year 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 expanding aquaculture industry also threaten wild salmon populations 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 increasing evidence that farm-raised juvenile salmon are escaping from private hatcheries located on rivers supporting wild salmon populations.

In 1997, the services withdrew a proposal to list the Atlantic salmon in Maine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It was determined at that time that existing protection for the species, including the state's newly developed Atlantic salmon conservation plan, was adequate to preserve the species and that listing the species was not warranted. The withdrawal notice provided for annual review of the implementation of the state's conservation plan.

The geographic area affected by the proposal includes all coastal watersheds in Maine with wild populations of Atlantic salmon north of and including the lower Kennebec River to, but not including, the St.Croix River at the U.S./Canada border. To date, wild salmon have been documented in the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Ducktrap, and Sheepscot rivers and Cove Brook.

The proposed rule to list the Atlantic salmon as endangered was published in today's Federal Register. The services will accept written comments on the proposal through Feb. 15, 2000, after which time a decision will be made to either list the species or withdraw the proposal. If listing occurs, the services will prepare a recovery plan for the species.

Copies of the proposed rule are available by writing to either Chief, Division of Endangered Species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035, or Endangered Species Program Coordinator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1 Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprising more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources 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 wildlife agencies.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is the principal steward of the nation's living marine resources, regulating the nation's commercial and recreational fisheries and managing species under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act throughout federal waters which extend 200 miles from the coastline. An agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Fisheries also protects marine and anadromous species under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.