The Penobscot River's Biggest Salmon Return In Eight Years Continues To Grow

Oct 10, 2019

The peak of the Atlantic salmon run in the Penobscot River was in June and early July, but fish are still showing up at the Milford Dam fish trap, where they’re being counted by Maine Department of Marine Resources staffers.

Jason Valliere, a marine resources scientist for the DMR’s division of sea-run fisheries and habitat, reported that the biggest salmon return in the past eight years continues to grow.

“Fifteen more new fish have been captured at the Milford Lift in the past 2 weeks, plus two more at Orono,” Valliere said in a recent fisheries report. “This brings the Milford total up to 1,129 and Orono up to 41 for a total estimated trap return of 1,170.”

This year marks the first time in eight years that more than 1,000 salmon have returned to the Penobscot. In 2011, a total of 3,108 salmon were counted. Just five years ago, only 255 salmon returned — the lowest since records were first kept at the Veazie Dam in 1978.

Initial fears after that dismal 2014 season were that a new fish lift at the Milford Dam simply wasn’t attracting as many fish, or was difficult for fish to find. Data analysis after the season ended indicated, however, that North American salmon returns were just historically low that year.

Since that historic low, an average of 701 fish have returned to the Penobscot each year before this season’s upward trend.

Atlantic salmon are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in all Maine rivers, and fishing for them is not allowed. The Penobscot River has the largest return of any Maine river each year.

In February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released their plan for the recovery of Atlantic salmon within the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment. It estimated that it will take 75 years — or about 15 generation of fish — for Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon to be delisted.

The total number of fish of different species counted at Milford, along with a comparison, plus or minus, with last year’s end-of-year total:

Atlantic salmon: 1,129 (+37)

American eel: 4 (equal)

American shad: 2,522 (-1,436)

River herring: 1,987,681 (-187,064)

Sea lamprey: 2,759 (+783)

Striped bass: 102 (-758)

Smallmouth bass: 1,662 (+588)

Largemouth bass: 31 (-37)

Brook trout: 19 (-12)

Landlocked salmon: 24 (+10)

This story appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.