N.O.A.A.’s Species in the Spotlight: Atlantic Salmon
Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), also known as the “King of Fish,” were once found in north American waters from Long Island Sound in the United States to Ungava Bay in northeastern Canada. Atlantic salmon are anadromous fish, spending the first half of their life in freshwater rivers and streams along the East Coast of North America and the second half maturing in the seas between Northeastern Canada and Greenland.
Today, the last remnant populations of Atlantic salmon in U.S. waters exist in just a few rivers and streams in central and eastern Maine. These populations constitute the Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Atlantic salmon, which is listed as endangered under the ESA.
To address the critical status of this imperiled species, we are marshalling resources and reaching out to vital partners to stabilize their populations and prevent extinction.
The final listing rule highlights the importance of dams and marine survival as causes of the current demographic plight of Atlantic salmon. A host of other threats also limit Atlantic salmon’s survival including aquaculture practices (which pose ecological and genetic risks), changing land use patterns (e.g., development, agriculture, forestry), climate change, degradation of water quality (e.g., contaminants, nutrient enrichment, elevated water temperature), non-native fish species that compete with or prey on Atlantic salmon (e.g., smallmouth bass), loss of habitat complexity and connectivity, water extraction, among others.
Through recovery planning we understand the threats and have identified a range of management actions that must be taken to address their decline. Some of the efforts that we are involved in include:
- Work with dam owners as well as state and tribal partners to find solutions that allow Atlantic salmon access to freshwater habitats.
- Conserve and restore other species (e.g., river herring) that salmon may depend upon.
- Negotiate with international partners to minimize impacts to U.S. origin fish in distant-water fisheries.
- Invest in science to ensure we implement conservation measures that will be most effective in restoring salmon populations at the lowest possible cost.
NOAA Fisheries is working with dam owners and local interests to develop solutions at dams that will allow for salmon recovery. NOAA Fisheries provided significant resources ($22.5 million) for the oversight, funding, and monitoring of two mainstem dam removals on the Penobscot River, which were part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project.
In addition, NOAA Fisheries staff continue to work with hydropower owners to craft plans for effective downstream and upstream fish passage at nearly all major hydropower dams within the designated critical habitat area for Atlantic salmon. The ultimate goal is to restore access to all necessary habitats for Atlantic salmon so that the fish are able to complete their life cycle moving from marine to freshwater and vice versa.