Colin Durrant, CLF Director of Communications
Portland, ME (October 4, 2007) – A federal judge approved a settlement agreement October 3 that will require federal wildlife agencies to protect critical habitat for the endangered Gulf of Maine population of wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). The agreement, resulting from a lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity in December 2006, requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to submit a proposed critical habitat designation for Maine Atlantic salmon by August 30, 2008, and a final critical habitat designation by April 30, 2009.
“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,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The critical habitat designation will ensure that the clean, unspoiled river habitat needed by Atlantic salmon is protected.”
Wild Atlantic salmon in Maine were listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in 2000. Habitat loss and degradation are leading contributors to the salmon’s continuing extinction risk. In December 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a recovery plan for the wild salmon that called for improving salmon habitat, but the agencies failed to designate critical habitat, a key step in the recovery process.
“The fact that the federal government hadn’t designated critical habitat for the struggling Atlantic salmon was a glaring failure to fulfill its obligations under the Endangered Species Act,” said Sean Mahoney, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Maine Advocacy Center. “This settlement will lay the foundation for restoration of this critical species.”
Atlantic salmon are known as the “king of fish” due to their streamlined and powerful beauty. They undertake an epic journey to complete their life cycle, migrating from the rivers where they are born to their feeding grounds in the North Atlantic Ocean, then returning to natal streams to spawn.
Atlantic salmon that spawn in the Gulf of Maine represent the last wild remnant population of U.S. Atlantic salmon. Eight rivers in Maine are still known to support the salmon, although at substantially reduced abundance levels: the Dennys, East Machias, Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Ducktrap, and Sheepscot Rivers and Cove Brook. Wild salmon have been extirpated from at least 14 small coastal rivers in the Gulf of Maine, and populations no longer survive south of the Kennebec River. In 2004, total adult salmon returns to Maine rivers were estimated to range from only 60 to 113 fish. No adults were documented in three of the eight rivers.
Once critical habitat is designated for Atlantic salmon, federal agencies will be required to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service before they undertake or authorize activities that may affect the habitat. In addition, the designation of critical habitat 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. A scientific study published in BioScience in 2005 showed that endangered species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species that do not have critical habitat designated.
The case was handled by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School. The research and drafting of pleadings was done by student clinicians under the supervision of Professor Patrick Parenteau. Their solid work led to a quick settlement that will speed the recovery of the endangered Atlantic salmon.
More information about Atlantic salmon can be found at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/species/AtlanticSalmon/index.html .
To review the Settlement and Order (in PDF format), click here .
The Conservation Law Foundation works to solve the environmental problems that threaten the people, natural resources and communities of New England. CLF’s advocates use law, economics and science to design and implement strategies that conserve natural resources, protect public health, and promote vital communities in our region. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization. It has offices in Boston, Massachusetts; Concord, New Hampshire; Providence, Rhode Island; Montpelier, Vermont; and Brunswick, Maine.