Ed Friedman lives within sight of historic Merrymeeting Bay, the coastal estuary into which Maine’s Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers flow. The board chair of Friends of Merrymeeting Bay (FOMB) for the past 16 years, Ed has long been an advocate for the protection of native fish species in Maine. Ed is a member of both FOMB and Environment Maine, the plaintiffs in NELC’s current Atlantic salmon litigation in Maine (see related article on 2013 Winter – Atlantic Salmon Cases Trigger Regulatory Action in Maine).

How does today’s salmon population compare to historical levels in Maine?
Taking the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers as examples, historic salmon runs numbered in the hundreds of thousands. This year, the Maine Department of Marine Resources recorded five adult salmon returning to the Kennebec, and only one returning to the Androscoggin. The contrast can’t get much more graphic than this.

Why is protecting salmon important?
Salmon are considered an iconic species for the reasons of superlative taste and historic population size, as well as their energy and fight when hooked on a line. At or near the top of the food chain in their spawning rivers, they could be considered an “apex predator.” As is the case with any species high on the food chain, if we can protect that species and its habitat, we by default protect most species lower on the chain. Moreover, the salmon is second only to the American eel in terms of how far up a watershed it will travel to spawn, and all habitat and species downstream will receive increased protection if we can restore the salmon throughout its historical range.

What role do these lawsuits play in efforts to bring back the salmon?
Without these cases, there is little doubt the salmon would be gone. We are in a sad time now where regulatory agencies, both state and federal, simply cannot or will not vigorously enforce the laws (such as the Endangered Species Act) designed to give salmon and other species the protection they deserve. It took legal action by FOMB and others to get the salmon on these two rivers listed as endangered, and I am certain that the current lawsuits are instrumental in persuading the power companies to improve fish passage at their dams, and in prompting the fish and wildlife agencies to develop salmon recovery plans. Too often, the agencies respond only to pressure. It’s our job to keep the pressure on.

Sturgeon Island, Merrymeeting Bay.