Government leadership is 
being sought for conserving

Canadian Wild Atlantic Salmon
and to protect populations at risk of extinction 

Sue Scott
Altantic Salmon Federation
December 2000


n August of 1999, the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and Trout Unlimited filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. federal agencies to protect Maine’s last wild salmon under the Endangered Species Act. The suit, the first in ASF’s 50-year history, was a last and desperate action on our part.

In November, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the remaining wild Atlantic salmon populations of the United States have been placed on the endangered species list. In the Northeast United States fewer than 50 wild Atlantic salmon returned this year to the eight spawning rivers that still have natural wild Atlantic salmon runs. The wild Atlantic salmon populations of the Dennys, Machias, East Machias, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Sheepscot, Ducktrap and Cove Brook (a tributary of the Penobscot River) are now protected and candidates for comprehensive recovery programs. They are all located in Maine. We don’t know whether the listing can reverse the decline, but it is the last chance we have to prevent the real possibility of the wild Atlantic salmon’s extinction in the United States.

=======  Dennys River  =======

(photo: ASF)

Since the mid 1970s, Atlantic salmon in their natural range of eastern North America and North Western Europe have undergone a steep decline in numbers. Despite a North American ban of the commercial harvest, and voluntary conservation programs of Aboriginal communities and anglers, the decline has continued. Where 25 years ago about one and a half million small and large wild Atlantic salmon returned each year to spawn in the rivers of eastern North America, today fewer than 350,000 do so. While the situation is indeed a crisis, it may not be too late.

One of the costs –– hopefully a temporary one –– of the election call this fall was the Species at Risk Act (SARA) that died on the order paper. This legislation, Canada’s equivalent to the US Endangered Species Act, is a last refuge for species facing extermination in Canada. The Atlantic Salmon Federation has called on the leaders of all political parties to commit to an early reintroduction and swift passage of SARA in the next Parliament.

The salmon populations of 33 rivers in the inner Bay of Fundy and the severely acid-stressed rivers of Nova Scotia’s southern upland region are so low in numbers that their survival rests on the protection and recovery programs afforded by endangered species legislation.


(photo: ASF)


However, government can’t wait for endangered species legislation to take measures to save the wild Atlantic salmon. The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans on numerous occasions has stated that it recognizes the need for research into the cause or causes of the loss of salmon during their migration in the ocean. Government must commit now to a research program. Government then must follow-up with remedial action indicated by the research –– with the goal of protecting and enhancing salmon populations at sea.

Moreover, the effects of agriculture, aquaculture, sewage and other human activity on our watersheds have downstream consequences on wild Atlantic salmon and other species that require a clean environment. We have called on the Federal government to lead a community watershed management structure in Atlantic Canada to ensure a healthy environment for wildlife and humans alike.

(photo: ASF)

We look to government to provide the leadership in a salmon river habitat restoration and enhancement programs to which other levels of government, private corporations and individual Canadians can participate. ASF and our more than 150 river associations have been involved in this work for decades and will continue, but we need help.

The wild Atlantic salmon is a species of cultural and social value to eastern Canada. The species contributes to the economy through the recreational fishery and to the food and ceremonial requirements of our native population. Whether wild Atlantic salmon will continue to return to their streams and rivers in Canada may be decided by how high a priority the next Parliament places on conservation and protecting species at risk.

(photo: ASF)