Atlantic salmon were once abundant in watersheds throughout New England, migrating in and out of rivers and streams each year by the hundreds of thousands. Known as the "king of fish," Atlantic salmon have long intrigued biologists with their capacity to hatch and grow in fresh water, to migrate to feeding grounds in the North Atlantic sea, and to return as adults to spawn in the same fresh waters where they were hatched. But today, fewer than 2,000 of the species are annually returning to their spawning grounds in New England-barely one percent of their traditional numbers. Dams and other obstacles have rendered some waterways impassable to the Atlantic salmon, while shoreline development, pollution and degraded water quality have contributed to the declining numbers of returning salmon.
The state of the Atlantic salmon has raised concerns throughout New England, and has galvanized a consortium of public and private groups, including the Forest Service, to take action. The Forest Service has participated in all aspects of Atlantic salmon restoration. Since 1988, Green Mountain National Forest personnel, led by Fisheries Biologist, Steve Roy, have been working with state and federal partners to stock rearing streams with salmon fry. Over recent years, an average of 557,000 salmon fry have been stocked into National Forest streams and rivers in the White and West River watersheds each spring. Forest personnel also monitor salmon populations and help U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel spawn and rear salmon at the White River National Fish Hatchery in Bethel, VT. Other restoration activities include monitoring and restoring in-stream habitat and stream crossings to improve conditions for juvenile salmon.
On January 9, 2006, the Forest Service’s Eastern Regional Forester Randy Moore signed a Statement of Intent to work collaboratively to restore Atlantic salmon in New England. The other signatories included nine state fishery agencies, the Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Regional Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Forest Service researchers have long been working with a wide array of academic federal, state, and private partners. Over the last 20 years, Forest Service Research and Development has been studying the effects of land use and habitat change on Atlantic salmon and the role of salmon in river and stream ecosystems. Dr. Keith Nislow, a research fisheries biologist at the Northeastern Research Station in Amherst, Mass., studies the interactions of forests, streams, and the fish that inhabit them. Nislow works cooperatively with Forest Service land managers on the Green Mountain and White Mountain National Forests. "As is the case with Pacific salmon in the northwest U.S., the Forest Service, with its emphasis on the relationship between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, provides a critical landscape-scale perspective on Atlantic salmon management and conservation," Nislow said.
The Atlantic salmon knows no political, international or jurisdictional boundary. The restoration of this important resource is a complex issue that becomes more challenging each year as populations remain at risk and as money to fund Atlantic salmon conservation measures continues to diminish.