Species in the Spotlight: Atlantic Salmon

[music and rushing water]

[music and sound effects]

Narrator: The Atlantic salmon

is the only species of salmon found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Like their Pacific cousins,

these fish are born in freshwater rivers,

embark on extensive feeding migrations in the open ocean,

and return years later to reproduce

in the same rivers from which they came.

Unlike the Pacific species, which die after spawning,

Atlantic salmon can migrate between fresh and saltwater

and reproduce multiple times.

In the U.S., we eat a lot of salmon.

And if it's Atlantic salmon, it's farmed.

Once known as the "king of fish,"

wild salmon historically filled our northeast rivers

as far south as Long Island Sound.

Today, adults migrate into just a few rivers and streams in Maine,

where fewer than 2,000 return annually –

barely one percent of the historic population.

Maine's largest watershed, the Penobscot River,

has gained priority status as one of NOAA's Habitat Focus Areas,

which brings many partners together

to help recover this highly endangered species.

Dan Kircheis: The Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon population

was listed as an endangered species back in 2000,

and Maine really offers the last best hope for their recovery.

The troubles for salmon really began

shortly after the Europeans settled this land a long time ago.

As our populations grew, we exploited these rivers

for their abundant fisheries,

used them as highways for transporting logs,

and constructed dams to power mills

and eventually generate electricity.

Today, over 400 dams block or impede the ability of Atlantic salmon

to access over 90% of their historical habitat.

Narrator: Atlantic salmon are also commercially fished

in international waters,

and warming ocean temperatures may be

affecting the foodwebs they depend on.

Dan Kircheis: But all is not lost.

We do have hope that this population can actually recover.

NOAA's Species in the Spotlight

is just the latest initiative to do everything possible

to turn things around for the Atlantic salmon.

For instance, we're working with many partners

to improve access to quality habitats

by removing dams when possible,

replacing undersized road culverts,

and installing highly effective fishways

when dam removal is not an option.

Since Atlantic salmon were listed,

more than 17 dams have been removed from rivers in Maine

where Atlantic salmon live.

Narrator: Removing these 17 dams has improved access

to more than a thousand river miles of habitat.

Steps like these pave the road to recovery

for not only Atlantic salmon,

but other sea-fun fish as well,

like river herring,

American shad,

and American eel.

At dams that aren't coming down,

new or redesigned fishways improve passage

for these fish coming up river.

At some, viewing windows yield accurate counts of returning fish,

and the opportunity to collect and study adult salmon.

Many will be taken to hatcheries,

spawned, and the offspring released

into the Penobscot watershed the following spring.

Dan Kircheis: This program is really a critical tool

in preventing the extinction of Atlantic salmon

while their populations are at critically low levels,

and it buys us time while we work to restore their habitats.


Due to the endangered status of Atlantic salmon,

it is illegal to fish for them in U.S. waters.

In international waters,

NOAA is working with partners to reduce

the harvest of US origin salmon to zero.

We are also researching how changing marine conditions

are affecting salmon survival,

and ways to lessen its impacts.

As for what you can do,

there are many ways that you can help restore our rivers and streams.

You can work with your local communities to remove dams

that are no longer being used.

You could help replace culverts that are not fish-friendly

with fish friendly culverts and bridges.

Also, if you live near a river or stream,

you can plant a well-forested buffer around the river or stream.

This provides shade for the fish,

provides food, and helps keep the water cool.


Narrator: Together, we can bring the Atlantic salmon

back from the brink of extinction in the U.S.,

and save a piece of our culture.

Atlantic salmon can thrive in our rivers and streams,

and maybe one day,

we can again line the banks of our Northeast rivers,

with hopes of catching the "king of fish."