Atlantic salmon once returned by the hundreds of thousands to most major rivers along the northeastern United States and supported lucrative commercial and recreational fisheries in New England. They were of great cultural and historical importance to Native American tribes in Maine, as well as a source of food. After decades of overfishing both in rivers and out at sea, followed by damming of rivers, Atlantic salmon only return in small numbers to rivers in central and eastern Maine.
The declines in Atlantic salmon populations were so extreme, that in 2000, the Gulf of Maine (GOM) Distinct Population Segement (DPS) of anadromous Atlantic salmon was initially listed as an endangered species. A subsequent rule issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2009 expanded the geographic range for the GOM DPS to include the Penobscot, Kennebec, and Androscoggin Rivers.
Currently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service works collaboratively with the NOAA, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Penobscot Indian Nation, educational institutions and non-government organizations and stakeholders to recover salmon in rivers where salmon have been lost and rehabilitate rivers where the genetic legacy of Atlantic salmon still exists, but is waning. A recovery plan for Atlantic salmon was finalized in 2019.
Green Lake National Fish Hatchery (NFH) uses very specific hatchery breeding and rearing protocols to produce disease-free fish and to maintain the genetic integrity of Atlantic salmon. These protocols also help ensure salmon will successfully make the transition from the hatchery environment to the wild. To support recovery, Green Lake NFH raises and stocks approximately 650,000 yearling Atlantic salmon smolts (8” fish) and 200,000+ fall parr (3-5” fish) annually. The majority of Atlantic salmon raised at the hatchery are stocked into the Penobscot River. The hatchery has also raised smolts and fall parr in recent years to support projects in the Narraguagus,Machias, East Machias, Sheepscot, and Pleasant River. Green Lake NFH also provides Atlantic salmon eggs to support environmental education programs in Maine schools and egg planting efforts in the Penobscot River and Sandy River, a tributary of the Kennebec River.