A year ago, Atlantic salmon returns to the Penobscot river were dismal — just 372 fish, the lowest in the 36-year history of the fish lift at the Veazie Dam.
Salmon returns were low on many other Atlantic salmon rivers, and anglers and conservationists hoped for a better 2014 season.
That hasn’t happened thus far on the Penobscot.
Oliver Cox of the Maine Department of Marine Resources Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat issued his first salmon report last week and the results were sobering.
As of June 16, just 66 salmon had returned to the new fish lift facility at Milford, as well as at another site in Milford and one in Orono. The former facility in Veazie no longer exists, as the Veazie Dam was demolished last summer as part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project.
As of roughly the same date a year ago, crew members had counted 224 salmon at Veazie.
“The new fish lift at Milford has been operated since May 5,” Cox reported via email. “There have been a few trials and tribulations along the way, but everyone is working hard to maintain fish passage.”
Cox was unwilling to offer reasons for another drop in salmon returns.
“I am not going to speculate on the low number of returns other than to point out that a low return year was predicted,” he wrote.
There is some good news, however.
Recent American shad and river herring reintroduction efforts have begun to pay huge dividends.
As of Monday, 455 shad had made it through the Milford counting facility. A year ago, no shad were listed in the end-of-season tally for Veazie.
Anglers and conservationists have said they think the Penobscot can support a massive shad run in the future — a run that will appeal to recreational anglers.
“The number of shad passed is certainly beyond anything I would have expected [this soon],” Cox wrote.
And the alewife/river herring numbers are even more staggering: A total of 187,048 river herring have been counted in Milford. That number is directly attributable to a stocking effort that began a few years back. Last year’s herring run was a modest 12,708, while a year before that (and a year before any alewives were expected to return), just 54 river herring made it to Veazie.