In the winter of 2014, The Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF) worked with the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) on a unique stocking effort that plants Atlantic salmon eggs directly into the stream bed in an effort to help restore this amazing species. The DSF assisted project biologists from the Maine DMR to plant salmon eggs in the Downeast rivers. This is the first time this new technique has been used in this region. A total of 145,000 eggs were planted into the Pleasant, Narraguagus, and Machias rivers in 2014. Depending on its initial success, the number of eggs planted and the geographic extent to which this stocking program spreads Downeast may increase in the coming years.
The egg planting technique has been very successful in the Kennebec drainage in Western Maine. Paul Christman, a fisheries biologist with DMR, has been using this method for more than six years. The results of his plantings have been well documented, showing high juvenile salmon abundances from egg planting.
The main objective of egg planting is to create a natural environment for the eggs to incubate, hatch, and grow into juvenile salmon. To accomplish this, the first task is to find an area of the river that is not ice covered and contains quality spawning and rearing habitat. Once the location has been chosen, a water pump setup, specifically designed for egg planting, is used to insert funnels made of stove pipe and PVC several inches into the river bottom. Eggs are placed into these funnels and fall directly into the gravel. As the funnels are removed, gravel lightly covers the eggs, where they will remain until mid-spring. This process mimics a redd, or a nest, created by a female Atlantic salmon in the fall. Using her tail, she will dig a pit into the gravel to lay her eggs. After laying her eggs, the female covers them with gravel, protecting the eggs through the icy winter and high water flows in early spring.
Because juvenile salmon abundance in our Downeast rivers are consistently low, the Downeast Salmon Federation is working with state and federal agencies in exploring and assessing different stocking and rearing techniques. In addition to ongoing unfed fry stocking through our Pleasant River hatchery, DSF is rearing fall parr at the East Machias Aquatic Research Center to stock into the East Machias River and is experimenting with egg planting for the first time this year. If assessments over the next few years show higher numbers of juveniles in the stocked river sections, these new techniques could be the foundation for recovery of the salmon populations in the Downeast rivers.
The Downeast Salmon Federation has received donations from the First Wind Bull Hill Project and local members to support this first year of effort planting eggs.