Our last, best chance to save Atlantic salmon

This is a sobering account of the state of Atlantic salmon populations in the United States and what action is required to help reverse the situation.

Atlantic salmon have a challenging life history — and those that hail from U.S. waters have seen things get increasingly difficult in the past 300 years.

Dubbed the “king of fish,” Atlantic salmon once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the United States and ranged up and down most of New England’s coastal rivers and ocean waters. But dams, pollution and overfishing have extirpated them from all the region’s rivers except in Maine. Today only around 1,000 wild salmon, known as the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment, return each year from their swim to Greenland. Fewer will find adequate spawning habitat in their natal rivers to reproduce.

That’s left Atlantic salmon in the United States critically endangered. Hatchery and stocking programs have kept them from disappearing entirely, but experts say recovering healthy, wild populations will require much more, including eliminating some of the obstacles (literally) standing in their way.