Tag Archives: atlantic salmon

The Maliseet Nation, Restoring Sea-Run Fish in the Beautiful, Flowing River

This blog is the second in a series written by Jr. Native American Liaison Zintkala Eiring to highlight our Tribal partners and the work they are doing to manage wildlife populations – in honor of National Native American Heritage Month.  

The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians are known by several names: “Wolastoqeqiyik”, the “People of the Beautiful, Flowing River” or the “Metahksonikewiyik”, the “People of the Meduxnekeag River”. The Houlton Band are ancestrally committed to conserving the native fish with whom they share their home in northern Maine. Traditionally, the Houlton Band crafted birch bark canoes to travel during spring, the spawning season for sea-run fish, within Saint John’s Watershed, known as “Wolastoq” to the Maliseet. Historically, Maliseet Native Americans occupied most of the eastern border between the U.S. and Canada. In fact, the Jay Treaty of 1794 established free border crossing for Maliseet people between the two countries. Currently, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Tribal trust land is near the town of Houlton, Maine.


The sea-run fish of the Meduxnekeag are traditionally significant to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, but due to several threats, the Atlantic salmon is now defined as an “at risk” species in the United States. In fact, the species is listed as Endangered within the Gulf of Maine’s Distinct Population Segment (https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/fishguide/atlantic_salmon.html). Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring

One of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians’ effort toward protecting their traditional fish, is to improve fish passage enhancement around culverts in tributaries of the Meduxnekeag River, which is named for being “rocky at its mouth”. This project is funded by Tribal Wildlife Grant, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

One of the individuals leading this effort is, Sharri Venno, the Environmental Planner for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. She mentioned several impairments that are encountered by the Atlantic salmon and other native fish that travel and shelter within the Meduxnekeag River. For example, up until the 1970’s, the Meduxnekeag riverbed was used to transport logged trees down the river to for lumber and timber-related industries. This resulted in an unnatural habitat for spawning fish, with few resting sites and little habitat to escape predation. Additionally, the State of Maine still identifies the presence of  DDT and mercury in Maine’s inland waters. Furthermore, the Mactaquac dam in Fredericton, New Brunswick, built in 1968, creates a major obstacle for spawning, migratory fish. Due in part to several consultations with Tribal Nations, the dam company agreed to dedicate $100 million to fish passage. The Houlton Band and other Maliseet First Nations continue to increase awareness about fish being trapped within the dam’s head-pond and the difficulty of upstream passage for fish. Currently, fish have to be captured below the head-pond and trucked upstream to artificially complete their sea-run fish passage, terming the phrase “trap and truck” for spawning fish.

atlantic salmon greg thompson

Recently, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Natural Resource staff learned that Atlantic salmon were found during a Canadian survey in Marven Brook, North Branch, and Hagerman Brook, which are all segments of the Meduxnekeag River near their Tribal trust land. Marven Brook was the most successful, with 16 fry and 2 parr sampled in August 2016, using electrofishing equipment, according to Cara O’ Donnell. The HBMI’s next project goal is to use Environmental DNA (eDNA) to have a greater understanding of the presence/absence of Atlantic salmon and other aquatic species in the Watershed, which is being done in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Pictured here: Atlantic salmon. Photo Credit: USFWS, Greg Thompson

Due to the efforts of  the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department and funding from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have also improved 2 miles of the Meduxnekeag Main Stem, over 1 mile of the North Branch, and 100 feet of Pearce Brook, an upstream tributary and fishing location. HMBI has also placed large boulders and trees within the river system to replicate natural habitat structures that would have been in the river before the timber industry removed them in Maine.


The goal of placing pooling structures is to provide resting spots for spawning fish swimming upstream the Meduxnekeag River. Sharri Venno imagines the new habitat structures will help narrow and deepen the stream like it was naturally. Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring



The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have been passionate advocates for the conservation of native fish, and have been heavily involved in the protection and recovery of sea-run fish. Several agencies have partnered with Maliseet Tribes through the signatures of several U.S. Federal Agencies (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and Canadian Departments on the “Welastekw River Interim Statement of Cooperation” The document may be viewed here: Final Signed Statement of Cooperation 2017 Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring

The conservation story of the Atlantic salmon is one of adaptability, perseverance, and pure passion and cultural attachment by the Houlton Band of Maliseet Tribe. Maliseet Nations have been sustainably harvesting sea-run fish for thousands of years. And today, they are at the heart of returning them to the Meduxnekeag River.

The Fish Enhancement Project was made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Tribal Wildlife Grant program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Grants are funded through an annual appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For more information on the program, please view this website: https://www.fws.gov/nativeamerican/grants.html


The Penobscot’s Original People Promote Atlantic Salmon Restoration

This is a first in blog series observing National Native American Heritage Month through November.  I am Zintkala Eiring, Junior Native American Liaison, and I will be sharing stories of Native American efforts in conservation. 

The Penobscot Indian Nation is a federally recognized Native American Tribe in Maine.  The Tribe possesses 200 islands within the Penobscot River, which accounts for 6,000 acres of reservation land. “Nə̀pi”, or “water” in the Penobscot dialect of the Eastern Algonquian language, is very important to the Penobscot people who live in the Penobscot River Watershed, the largest watershed in the State of Maine. Surface waters include 1,224 lakes, 188 rivers and streams which total 7,127 river miles (Penobscot Indian Nation, 2017).

The Eastern Algonquian language is common to coastal river communities from Nova Scotia to North Carolina. The East Branch is named Wassategwewick for its fishing, and it is critical for restoring populations of Atlantic salmon. The Picataquis, meaning “little branch stream,” is very important to the Penobscot people as it is a travel route that has spawning habitat for Atlantic salmon.The lower Penobscot is where the name of the “Penobscot” came from, but the river is now dammed. Photo Credit: Atlantic Salmon Federation

The Penobscot River was first inhabited by the ancestors of the Penobscot Indian Nation. Archaeological evidence shows native inhabitants fished American shad 8,000 years ago and sturgeon 3,000 years ago from the Penobscot River. The Penobscot River is still the largest Atlantic salmon run remaining in the U.S., with 1,000-4,000 adult salmon annually, compared to 50,000 adult salmon historically (Penobscot River Restoration Trust, 2017).

Mattamiscontis means “a fishing place for alewives”. It is the stream that enters the west side of the Penobscot River above Howland, Maine. Migratory fish, including alewife, would fill the Penobscot River by the millions until dams were constructed in the 1830s and later. Traditionally, native peoples of the Northeast, including the Penobscot Indian Nation, used stone weirs along streams to harvest migratory fish. Atlantic salmon have not been able to be harvested because of the lack of sea-run fish above the Veazie dam. However, a wooden weir exists today in the Penobscot River drainage to capture adult American eels as they migrate to the ocean to spawn (Penobscot River Restoration Trust, 2017).

The Atlantic salmon was listed as endangered in 2011. The decline in the population was mostly from lack of habitat and connectivity of rivers used by spawning fish. For example, The Milford dam, West Enfield dam, and Weldom dam decrease the chances of connectivity for Atlantic salmon near the Penobscot Indian Nation’s territory. Additional riverbed damage occurred in the 1980’s from timber harvesting activities, destroying small protective pools for spawning fish.

The Penobscot Indian Nation applied to the Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grants (TWG) program and received funding for their 2017-2019 plan to increase the health of the culturally significant Atlantic salmon. The Tribe has been involved in the relicensing process for local hydropower dams, and in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) meetings. Additionally, the Penobscot Indian Nation has delivered several projects to restore stream connectivity in the Mattamiscontis River.

Daniel McCaw, the Fisheries Biologist for the Penobscot Indian Nation, has been leading the aquatic efforts. In fact, McCaw hopes to see a significant increase of blueback herring and alewife in the Mattamiscontis outlet, East, and South Lake.

Wildlife Sports Fisheries Restoration (WSFR), TWG Administrator, Richard Zane (left) and Dan McCaw, Tribal Fisheries Biologist for Penobscot Indian Nation (right) viewing stream bank restoration site

The Penobscot Indian Nation’s Atlantic Salmon Enhancement project has created passages for spawning fish that haven’t existed since the Penobscot River was rerouted by roads and logging enterprises. The project has included the installation of arch culverts to increase stream connectivity and natural flow passages to improve migratory fish passage. “My five-year dream is to have tribal gatherings here with smoked alewife,” says Daniel McCaw, Tribal Wildlife Biologist.

The Atlantic Salmon enhancement project has been visibility successful by reconnecting the Penobscot River to its natural route. In Mattamiscontis stream, Atlantic salmon parr (juveniles) have been found. They were taken to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery to increase the population for release back into the watershed.

The Atlantic Salmon Enhancement project was made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Penobscot Indian Nation and the Tribal Wildlife Grant program of the Service. For more information on the program, please contact Richard Zane, richard_zane@fws.gov (the Northeastern TWG program coordinator) or Timothy Binzen, the Native American Liaison for the Service’s Northeastern and Southeast Regions timothy_binzen@fws.gov.

From Wells to Watersheds: the Land Between Two Rivers

Near the Nashua River, a tributary to the Merrimack River, and practically in the middle of of Nashua, New Hampshire sits the Nashua National Fish Hatchery where American shad and Atlantic salmon are raised to restore valuable Atlantic coast fisheries. Katie Marony, a biologist at the Hatchery, is a big fan of Atlantic salmon. She also enjoys working with young people, teaching about fish ecology and inspiring a new generation of biologists. Today Katie shares a new program offered at the Hatchery for 7th graders.

Kate Marony with a BIG Atlantic salmon from the Nashua National Fish Hatchery

Besides growing Atlantic salmon and American shad to restore important Atlantic coast recreational and commercial fisheries, the Nashua National Fish Hatchery (NNFH) has something else to be proud of – we are the second national fish hatchery in the nation to be awarded a “Hands on the Land” grant through the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The NNFH collaborated with the Amoskeag Fishways Partnership and the Elm Street Middle School to develop and implement a STEM-based educational program for 400 7th grade students in the heart of Nashua, NH. The Elm Street Middle School serves over 1000 students from diverse backgrounds, including many recent immigrants to the U.S. This partnership is integrating in-class lessons for the state’s 7th grade life science curriculum with hands-on, outdoor learning experiences.

The program includes multiple classroom sessions with the experienced staff of Amoskeag Fishways, and culminates in a field trip to the hatchery. And thanks to the generosity of NEEF/EPA, the programs are offered at no cost to the school.

This past May, educators from the Amoskeag Fishways Visitor Center taught three, in-class lessons: 1) watersheds and how water moves through groundwater and surface waters; 2) water chemistry and how to test water, and importance of water quality to ecosystems and people; and 3) fish anatomy and physiology, and habitat requirements. Following the in-class sessions, we transported students to the hatchery for a tour.

The purpose of the tour was two-fold: to introduce students to accessible urban green spaces close to their homes, and to teach them about water use, water treatment, fish production, and conservation efforts by the hatchery to restore our fisheries. “I learned so much about fish and the differences of each fish age.” said Adrianna R. “Your fish were so cute. I didn’t even know there were fish that big in the world.” said Jean Marie S.

Indeed, students were very engaged and surprised by the cool science behind fish culture and protecting our watersheds. The hatchery tours followed the path that the water takes at our facility. “I thought it was so cool that we got to learn about salmon and their life cycle. It was interesting getting to see how the water gets filtered.” said another 7th grader. We showed them our wells, pumps, degassing building, and our water discharge area. One student exclaimed “It was amazing to see all of the fish inside the tents! I hope I get to go again! I never knew you had to degas the water. The lessons before the field trip were really helpful to learn more about the fish hatchery!”

Our post-program evaluation indicated that students retained a majority of the information taught throughout the sessions, as well as an increased desire to visit our facility again. We plan to further develop our program and offer it to the Elm Street Middle School in the future. Come visit us at the Nashua National Fish Hatchery; we are happy to work with your youth group and offer a tour.