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A Sighting for Sore Eyes
Sam Lardner
November 30, 1992
At one time extinct in the area, Atlantic salmon have been seen spawning in a Connecticut river
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November 30, 1992

A Sighting For Sore Eyes

At one time extinct in the area, Atlantic salmon have been seen spawning in a Connecticut river

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The ASF has raised $500,000, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has contributed another $250,000 toward the Greenland buyout. "We know that's not going to be nearly enough," says Wilfred Carter, president emeritus of the ASF. The governments of the U.S. and other salmon-producing countries are also expected to contribute.

North American salmon conservationists see many reasons why river harvesting and voluntary buyouts are policies well worth pursuing. From a biological standpoint the Atlantic salmon is considered an index species, like the bald eagle, whose presence reflects the overall quality of the surrounding ecosystem. The Atlantic salmon's disappearance from U.S. rivers reflected the extent to which the northeastern watershed was devastated by the industrial revolution. The return of the salmon reflects the current dramatic recovery of this same freshwater habitat.

From an angler's perspective, the Atlantic salmon is arguably the ultimate freshwater game fish. Its heart-stopping runs and spectacular leaps have been described in almost mythical terms by thousands of aficionados, who on an average fishing trip contribute to the local economy seven times the value of a commercially caught salmon.

In theory, fishing for Atlantic salmon in rivers is completely illogical, since adult fish do not feed once they enter fresh water. For reasons that have never been fully understood, however, they can at times be enticed into taking a fly or a lure. The unpredictable and often exasperating nature of this sport has crushed its share of egos and engendered its share of addicts. Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Jimmy Carter rank among our most famous contemporary enthusiasts, and it is largely due to concerned anglers like them that the species occupies a growing spot in the environmental limelight.

Atlantic salmon may even one day serve as a catalyst in opening up a dialogue between nations. For example, an informational exchange between the Spanish department of environmental protection and the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission might lead to increased understanding of environmental issues affecting both Spain and the U.S. The focus of the exchange would be twofold.

First, because Spanish rivers mark the southernmost range of Atlantic salmon in Europe—just as Connecticut rivers are the fish's southernmost habitat in North America—U.S. biologists believe that salmon returning there may share some genetic traits with extinct Connecticut River strains. The adult salmon now bred for the Connecticut restoration project are taken from more-northern cold-water strains, and biologists speculate that the introduction of Spanish brood stock in Connecticut hatcheries might lead to better returns in southern New England's warmer waters. Second, while many Spanish rivers have maintained their native runs, biologists from Spain's Atlantic provinces agree that their fish are endangered by proposed industrial expansion and ambitious hydroelectric projects. By arming themselves with statistical information on the effects of such projects on U.S. freshwater ecosystems during the 1800s, the biologists may better protect Spain's threatened fishery from today's progress-minded government.

Despite its difficulties, the Atlantic salmon appears to have a brighter future. But if anything, Gephard's description of the two fish's spawning in Connecticut's Salmon River last fall epitomizes the paradoxical nature of attempting to assist one of nature's creations. This spring some of those fertilized eggs hatched—the first documented instance of salmon fry hatching naturally there in nearly 200 years. The assured survival of these fish in U.S. and Canadian waters at times seems within our reach, and at other times appears to be quite beyond our control. Their world, like our world, has become a very different place, and their triumphs have become our triumphs in an important mutual endeavor.

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