Tag Archives: atlantic salmon

“Trap and Trucking” salmon – restoring a historic native fish

Bill and Nick are fisheries biologists working to restore Atlantic salmon to their native habitats in the Lake Champlain Basin. Photo credit: USFWS

Bill and Nick are fisheries biologists working to restore Atlantic salmon to their native habitats in the Lake Champlain Basin. Photo credit: USFWS

 

Today we hear from Bill Ardren and Nick Staats, fisheries biologists who work out of our Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Vermont. This past year marked a milestone in their efforts to restore landlocked Atlantic salmon to parts of their historic range in the Lake Champlain and its tributaries, as they saw strong spawning runs of fish returning to the Winooski River.

 

A juvenile "pre-smolt" Atlantic salmon.  Populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon are making a comeback in their native Lake Champlain. Photo credit: E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS

A juvenile “pre-smolt” Atlantic salmon.
Populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon are making a comeback in their native Lake Champlain. Photo credit: E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS

Vermont anglers have been waiting nearly 100 years for a chance to catch “the big one” – salmon that is! And it’s all thanks to the coordinated efforts of state, federal and non -government agencies working to restore landlocked Atlantic salmon to its historical habitat in the Winooski River and beyond.

Natural populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon disappeared from Lake Champlain nearly 100 years ago. The combination of dams blocking access to habitat, over-fishing and pollution was too great for this native species of fish to survive.

salmondumped(2)

These Atlantic salmon are getting the lift they need to become re-established in their native waters of the Lake Champlain basin.

But now, efforts to restore river-run populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Lake Champlain have seen a “lift” with the resumption of the trap and truck program at the first dam in the Winooski River.

This successful fish passage program, done in cooperation with Burlington Electric and Green Mountain Power, provides landlocked salmon with access to more than 20 miles of spawning and nursery habitat in the upper river and its tributaries. This past fall we trapped 158 salmon, the second highest return to the dam since we began monitoring them in 1993.

Adopt-a-Salmon Stocking 002

The “Adopt-a-Salmon” program helps restore fish populations to their native habitats. In this photo, students involved in the program release salmon fry that they hatched in their classroom from eggs.

These restoration efforts also provide new opportunities for recreational salmon fishing in an accessible setting near one of Vermont’s most populated areas.  In addition, the fish lift at the Winooski One Hydropower Plant is open to the public for viewing and provides information on the restoration program happening in their community.

Landlocked salmon photo for blog

Winooski One station operator Jon Clark holds a 32 inch, 14 pound male landlocked Atlantic salmon lifted during the 2014 fall salmon run. The current Vermont state record for an angled caught landlocked salmon is 12 pounds, 10 ounces. Photo credit: Nicholas Staats, USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and New York Department of Environmental Conservation, has been working to restore Atlantic salmon to Lake Champlain since 1972.  This is another successful step in the ongoing salmon restoration program that involves our national fish hatchery program, sea lamprey control, fish passage, habitat restoration, and science based monitoring and evaluation.

Learn about efforts to restore landlocked Atlantic salmon in the Lake Champlain basin of Vermont and New York:

Meet the new leader of the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program!

Meet Jed Wright, the new project leader for the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program in Falmouth, Maine. Jed has worked with the Service for over 10 years. Learn more in this blog interview about him, his experience and goals for managing the program.

Photo courtesy of Jed.

Photo courtesy of Jed.

What is your professional background and experience with the Service?

Before joining the Service in 1994, I completed various graduate degrees and worked in Washington, D.C. and Southern Africa. Somehow I kept on ending up in countries that were in the midst of civil wars. I went to Bates College and always thought that Maine was a very special place–when a chance arose to move back to the state, I took it.

I began working for the Service in a position that was shared between Fisheries and Ecological Services programs and focused on habitat mapping for Atlantic salmon. Over the years, my work evolved to a broader focus on habitat assessment, protection and restoration projects. I really enjoy working with a diverse set of partners and I’ve worked hard to build capacity within agencies and conservation groups.

I’ve enjoyed working with Service staff throughout the region and nationally and always learned so much from other’s experiences.

What are your goals as the new project leader?

I’m really excited about my new role and the great opportunities ahead for the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program. The Coastal Program has a unique role and I look forward to building stronger linkages with other Service programs. I also look forward to reaching out to the next generation of conservation leaders by increasing internships, details, and fellowships that we offer.

There is a strong movement in Maine focused on restoring aquatic connectivity and I see our office continuing to play a large role in that arena.

Habitat protection and restoration efforts will play a role in the future at conserving not just present-day trust resources, but also in the ability of coastal ecosystems to respond to change and support coastal resources of the future and advance long-term conservation of critical habitat and species. I think it will be important for us to develop tools to assess how our habitat protection, restoration and management actions are contributing to resilience of coastal ecosystems in Maine.

Many of our local conservation partners don’t have access to facilities like the National Conservation Training Center and I’d like to see our office increase its focus on developing and hosting technical workshops.

Can you share a story about one of your greatest accomplishments at work so far? What you’ll bring from that experience to your new leadership role?

Managing the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Fund, a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation program, was a dynamic and rewarding experience. With a small amount of initial funding and a great deal of work from partners, I helped to permanently protect thousand of acres of riparian habitat, strengthen local conservation organizations, and develop innovative restoration approaches.

I see the lasting impact of the investments that we were able to make throughout Maine, especially in the area of aquatic connectivity. We recently completed a project in the Sandy River watershed in partnership with a small town. The town manager and road commissioner ended up committing their entire annual road budget to fix a serious fish passage problem. They spoke eloquently about their desire to be good stewards to the environment and their hope to restore fish passage throughout their watershed.

It’s clear that if you connect to people on an individual basis and look for shared values all sorts of great things are possible.

Check out this time lapse: Helping a town repair its road and improve fish habitat! A culvert on a busy town road in Phillips, Maine, was failing. The site was a priority for restoring Atlantic salmon and brook trout habitat. The folks at Jed’s office partnered with other organizations to secure enough funding, complete surveys and design and construct the new crossing, which was finished this month. The town is very happy with the results, and we hope that this project will serve as a model for additional municipal projects across Maine! Video credit: credit Alex Abbott (GOMCP)

Anything else you want to share with the community?

My interest in rivers and things aquatic stemmed from a childhood playing in our backyard stream. Many afternoons were spent racing sticks down through the currents or searching for fish. There were a few less benign activities including building numerous dams and once I and a cousin caused an avulsion that cut off a meander bend. My mom was not pleased with our radical change to the landscape.

I feel very lucky to have this job, to work with such a great group of colleagues and partners, and to be able to make amends up for all the impacts I caused to that small backyard stream.

A Tribal perspective: The Atlantic salmon and the Penobscot Indian Nation

Photo Credit: Cheryl Daigle

Dan McCaw, fisheries biologist with the Penobscot Indian Nation

November is Native American Heritage Month. November is also spawning season at the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in Maine, which marks its 125th anniversary this year. In recognition of both occasions, today we hear from Dan McCaw, a fisheries biologist with the Penobscot Indian Nation, as he talks about the historical connection between native people and the species that helped sustain them for thousands of years, the Atlantic salmon.

The Penobscot Indian Nation has inhabited the Penobscot River basin since time immemorial. With its forested upland, diverse river and lake habitat, and once abundant fisheries, the basin has sustained the people of the Penobscot Nation for thousands of years.

The history, culture and economics of the tribe are intimately connected with the river and the sea-run fish that returned every spring. Atlantic salmon were at one time a herald of spring, a very welcome food source and leaping proof of the health of the river and its people.

Indian Island sits in the background of this photo of Milford Dam. Photo credit: Bridget Besaw, Penobscot River Restoration Trust

Indian Island sits in the background of this photo of Milford Dam. Photo credit: Bridget Besaw, Penobscot River Restoration Trust

Indian Island sits in the Penobscot River about ten miles upstream from the head of tide and was the springtime home of the Penobscot Nation. It is a place where weddings, celebrations and important meetings between tribal clans have taken place over the centuries. All clans would gather on the island every spring and take advantage of the seemingly endless the supply of fresh fish.

A traditional Penobscot birch bark canoe. Photo credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS

A traditional Penobscot birch bark canoe. Photo credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS

A member of the Penobscot Indian Nation paddles a canoe by the area where Veazie dam once stood. Photo Credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS

A member of the Penobscot Indian Nation paddles a canoe by the area where Veazie dam once stood. Photo Credit: Meagan Racey, USFWS

Looking back a few centuries to the 1700s and 1800s, the stretch of river immediately downstream of Indian Island was called Old Town Falls. These falls had many islands and side channels that provided excellent opportunities for catching Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish that swam up the Penobscot River every spring. Spears, nets, seines, weirs, birch bark canoes and birch bark torches were all used by tribal fishermen to harvest this incredible bounty.

But by the 1830s, most of the sea-run fish were gone with the construction of timber dams at Veazie, Great Works and Old Town Falls. The islands at Old Town Falls were permanently flooded by the construction of the concrete Milford Dam in 1906. The Penobscot River, like most rivers in New England, is no longer healthy and full of fish, as it once was.

We are the river - the river is us..."This river is the backbone of who we are as a Nation. Our name is derived from the description of the land in this region. The river that flows through it bears our name or we bear its name. We call ourselves 'Pana wampskik.' Jerry Pardilla, former Tribal Governor. Photo credit Penobscot Indian Nation DNR

We are the river – the river is us…“This river is the backbone of who we are as a Nation. Our name is derived from the description of the land in this region. The river that flows through it bears our name or we bear its name. We call ourselves ‘Pana wampskik.’ Jerry Pardilla, former Tribal Governor. Photo credit Penobscot Indian Nation DNR

Today, the Penobscot Indian Nation no longer supports itself on the bounty of the river. Atlantic salmon populations are now greatly diminished in numbers and the species is on the verge of extinction. The connection between the Penobscot Nation and the Atlantic salmon of the Penobscot River is but a legend today.

Currently there is more hope for the future health of the Penobscot River and its sea-run fish than ever before. The two main stem dams downstream of Indian Island have been removed from the river through the Penobscot River Restoration Project.  The Milford Dam is now the first dam on the river and has a new state-of-the-art fish lift that began operating in 2014.

USFWS staff at the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery spawn sea-run Atlantic salmon. Photo credit: Peter Steenstra, USFWS

USFWS staff at the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery spawn sea-run Atlantic salmon. Photo credit: Peter Steenstra, USFWS

Today, through the vital restoration work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Penobscot Nation, and other natural resource partners, Atlantic salmon and his sea-run brothers may once again provide sustenance for an indigenous people and show the world just how a healthy and functioning river can transform mankind’s definition of wealth.

Read about the Penobscot Indian Nation

Visit Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery

History of Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery: Charles Atkins, a pioneer in fisheries conservation