The Atlantic salmon is sometimes called the “king of fish” for its streamlined and powerful beauty. Members of the species undertake an epic journey to complete their life cycle, migrating from freshwater rivers to feeding grounds in the North Atlantic Ocean, and then returning to natal streams to spawn. But since the 18th century, Atlantic salmon populations have declined dramatically throughout most of their East Coast range due mainly to dams, water withdrawals, river pollution and sedimentation, nonnative fish, and excessive fishing. Atlantic salmon are a potent symbol of the need to restore clean, unspoiled waters that run wild to the sea.

Five years after the Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon population was listed as endangered in 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service published a recovery plan for the species — but still designated no federally protected habitat for the fish. To remedy this, the next year the Center and the Conservation Law Foundation of New England filed suit, and in response, in September 2008 the agencies proposed to designate 12,000 miles of river and 300 sqaure miles of lakes as critical habitat. In the same month, in response to a 2005 petition by Center allies and a 2008 lawsuit by the Center, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, and a Maine river activist, the agencies proposed to extend the Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon's endangered status to include salmon in Maine's Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Penobscot rivers. This proposal was made final in 2009, when the agencies also granted the fish additional critical habitat protections in about 12,000 miles of rivers and estuaries and 300 square miles of lakes.

We've also focused on saving Atlantic salmon from river-polluting pesticides. In 2004, we published Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species, a comprehensive report discussing pesticides impacts on endangered species, including wild Atlantic salmon in Maine.

Photo by William Hartley, USFWS