Atlantic salmon will never be restored to Maine rivers

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to restore Atlantic salmon to Maine rivers, without much luck. A recent report said they’ll need to spend at least $24 million dollars a year for the next 75 years, in order to succeed in restoring salmon to a few of our rivers.

It’s time to recognize the futility of this project, and direct that money and effort elsewhere. It seems especially ironic that salmon that are now returning to Maine were born in a hatchery. These are not wild fish.

They should recognize that warming ocean waters are dramatically changing things. Mainers haven’t been able to harvest shrimp for 6 years, and lobsters continue to move east and further out to sea.

I was never much of an Atlantic salmon angler. I fished the Penobscot for them once with outdoor writer Bud Leavitt, without success. And I did catch a wild Atlantic salmon once in the Leaf River in far northern Quebec, while fishing for brook and lake trout.

Fishing in the pens

Many years ago, the feds ordered a Maine aquaculture company to get rid of all its pen-raised Atlantic salmon, because they were too close, genetically, to wild salmon, and if they escaped the pens, could mess with the wild fish. Originally the company announced it would kill and bury the fish, and that’s when I got involved.

I took lots of anglers to Machiasport, where we boated out to the pens, stood on the sides of them, and caught the fish which went up to 35 pounds. I can’t even describe the excitement of seeing a huge salmon coming up from the depths headed for your lure. Some of my fly fishing friends were appalled – until I took them with me one day, and they caught the salmon on flies. After that, they begged to return!

Later, after I’d made about a half dozen trips, the company allowed other anglers, for a fee, to catch and keep salmon, and several groups did that, some from out of state. But that was a short-lived opportunity and eventually the rest of the salmon went to the Indian tribes.

Thankfully, none were wasted, and every time I returned home with a cooler full of salmon filets, I shared them with friends and neighbors – making me very popular in the neighborhood for a while!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.