Atlantic Salmon Restoration Struggles Throughout New England

The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that it is ending its 45-year-long effort to restore Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River. But the program is only one in a group of struggling restoration efforts throughout the Northeast.

Steve Gephard is a fisheries biologist with Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. He says restoration efforts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have been cut back in recent years because the native genetic strain of Atlantic salmon have been extinct for nearly 200 years. So restoration efforts in southern New England have relied on transplanting fish from Maine, where Atlantic salmon are an endangered species. But he says the migratory patterns of Atlantic salmon make restoration efforts in any region of New England a challenge.

“If you’re trying to restore an oak forest, it’s sort of easy because the oaks don’t go anywhere – you plant them, and as long as they have the right soil and conditions, they’ll prosper. But any highly migratory species like salmon, caribou, whooping cranes, anything that migrates a long ways, it gets very, very difficult.”

Gephard says the main obstacles are water pollution and dams. He also says the potential effects of climate change aren’t making restoration projects any easier.

“We’re as far south as they get. And now with climate change and all that entails, including, probably, the warming of water, it’s a real challenge. So we’re already almost too far south for them, and now it’s getting warm.”

Gephard says Maine has more federal restoration programs than other New England states, because it retains the largest Atlantic salmon population in the country, though Maine’s programs have also faced cut backs.