For sport fishers around the world, there is no catch more prized than the wild Atlantic salmon. And for many years, the best place in the world to catch one of these treasures, the “king of all fish,” was Maine’s Penobscot River.

One particular bend in the river near Bangor once produced fish as big as 25 pounds. One catch was good for decades of stories.

But instead of being mounted on the wall as a trophy or eaten in a celebratory feast, the first fresh-run catch of each spring season was given away — sent to the White House by the members of the Penobscot Salmon Club, the nation’s oldest fishing club, whose clubhouse overlooking the river is adorned with presidential letters of thanks.

It will take a miracle for Donald Trump to receive a gift of wild Atlantic salmon. This has nothing to do with personal feelings about the president. It has everything to do with attacks on some of America’s most popular and effective environmental protection laws.


The last thank-you note for a salmon is from Ronald Reagan. It dates from the early 1980s, the last time the wild Atlantic salmon — whose last remaining spawning habitat in the United States are Maine’s rivers — existed in numbers plentiful enough to catch.

Reagan will remain the last president to enjoy this rare delicacy — and anglers, foodies and appreciators of wildlife alike will be forever robbed of an experience their ancestors took for granted — unless efforts in Congress to undermine the Endangered Species Act are stopped.

Salmon have recovered once before. There was no wild Atlantic salmon fishing on the Penobscot for much of the 1960s and 1970s.

Reagan enjoyed a wild Atlantic salmon only after President Richard Nixon in 1972 signed into law the Clean Water Act, an effort championed by Maine’s own Sen. Edmund Muskie. Under the Clean Water Act, pollution on the river was reduced by 80 percent. The Penobscot River became a national model for restoring fisheries.

The salmon recovered enough for fishing to return for a while, but rivers blocked for spawning salmon by dams and fouled with the runoff from paper mills took their toll. By the year 2000, the salmon population had dwindled again, from 5,000 in the 1980s to 530.

There has been no wild salmon fishing on the Penobscot since 1999.

The wild Atlantic salmon is now listed on the Endangered Species Act. Listing a species — which involves immediate controls, like a ban on fishing, and a long-term plan to restore population levels – has had proven success in saving iconic wildlife, including the bald eagle.

It will take years under the best of circumstances for salmon population to recover — and Republicans in Congress are currently pushing a bevy of plans that would weaken the Endangered Species Act, and push it and many other endangered species to the brink of extinction.


These include the Listing Reform Act, H.R. 717, which would give Trump appointees the power to deny listing species as endangered or at risk of endangerment based on economic impact rather than science. Far more insidious is the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act – which would remove protections entirely unless both houses of Congress approved new listings, and give governors the ability to veto the listing of species.

Gov. Paul LePage has consistently spoken out against modest environmental protections.

Putting the future of the wild Atlantic salmon – or other at-risk animals, including the Canada lynx and the Eastern gray wolf — in his hands would be a catastrophe. It also contradicts the wishes of a vast majority of Mainers — and threatens our livelihoods, too.

Maine’s identity and its economy rely on preserving these natural treasures. Salmon fishing used to contribute millions of dollars to Maine’s economy. The last salmon season drew fishers from around the world.

Salmon were once so plentiful in the Penobscot that, legends go, you could walk across the river on the backs of the fish.

For Maine to ever see another Atlantic salmon fishing season again, the Endangered Species Act must be left alone or strengthened, not weakened.

Dan Tandy of Mount Desert Island was a National Park Service ranger in Alaska and has been a business owner in Bangor for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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