For Immediate Release, September 5, 2008

Contact: Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388

Conservationists' Lawsuit Gains Critical Habitat for Atlantic Salmon

PORTLAND, MaineToday the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed designating 126,623 miles of river, stream, and estuary habitat and 214,487 acres of lake habitat as critical habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine.

Today’s notice follows an announcement on Tuesday by the Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that salmon populations in the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Penobscot Rivers in Maine would also be listed as endangered. The announcement came in response to a 2008 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, and river activist Doug Watts. Today’s notice includes proposed critical habitat for the entire, newly expanded Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon population, including the Downeast Maine rivers as well as the larger rivers that host the newly listed salmon runs.

“Critical habitat has a proven record of aiding the recovery of endangered species,” said Mollie Matteson, Northeast conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are pleased that habitat for the critically endangered Atlantic salmon will finally be protected, although the proposed habitat needs to be strengthened to include unoccupied rivers and areas above dams where salmon can be restored in the future. With the protections of the Endangered Species Act now extended to Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Penobscot Rivers, this iconic species has a fighting chance of recovery.”

The Gulf of Maine population of Atlantic salmon was listed as an endangered species in 2000. The 2000 listing included only eight relatively small rivers in Downeast Maine: the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Ducktrap, and Sheepscot Rivers and Cove Brook.

Today’s critical habitat proposal comes in response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Conservation Law Foundation, which ended in a settlement agreement requiring the federal government to designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act by August 30th.

“With wild Atlantic salmon remaining in only eight rivers in Maine, and only around 100 adult fish returning to those rivers each year, protection of critical habitat is essential for recovering Maine’s salmon runs,” Matteson said.

A scientific study published in BioScience in 2005 showed that endangered species with critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as species that do not have critical habitat designated. The designation requires federal agencies to consult with the Fisheries Service before they undertake or authorize activities that may affect critical habitat. In addition, the designation will provide definitive information on land-use decisions to landowners and agencies by specifically identifying the habitat areas of greatest concern. Critical habitat designation does not preclude private development activities .

Atlantic salmon populations have declined dramatically throughout most of their range along the East Coast of North America since the 18th century. Dams, water withdrawals, pollution and sedimentation of rivers from development and logging, interbreeding and competition with hatchery fish, and excessive fishing have been the leading causes of their disappearance from many watersheds.

Public comments on the critical habitat proposal are due November 4th. A public comment period on the proposed expanded listing of salmon in the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Penobscot Rivers is open until December 2nd.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national non-profit conservation organization that protects native species and their habitats through science, policy, and environmental law. The Northeast office of the Center is in Richmond, Vermont.

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