By Nolan Pakulski Contributing Writer
On the cold clear morning of March 6, 2019, Nancy Prentiss and her Bio 110 class helped the Maine Department of Marine Resources deposit the eggs of Atlantic Salmon into a tributary of the Sandy River.
Prentiss and her class snowshoed through the woods that morning, until they reached the Sandy River. “[It] was a gorgeous day in the single digits, about 8 degrees. I’m not sure if the temperature ever broke out of the single digits,” said Prentiss.
The tributary – a stream that flows into the river – that the group snowshoed to is called the South Branch. The students and Prentiss hauled the equipment they would need through several feet of snow. This equipment included coolers of already fertilized salmon eggs, water cannons, and aluminium cones. The water cannons and cones were used to create artificial redds – nests on the river bottom that wild salmon lay their eggs in.
First the aluminum canister is inserted and then the water cannon blasts away the pebbles on the bottom to create a sandy place for the eggs. In charge of the whole operation was Paul Christman a marine scientist who works for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
The eggs that were used were provided for the project by the Craig Brook Fish Hatchery, in East Orland Maine, about 2 hours away from Farmington. The eggs had already been incubating for 8 weeks before coming to the South Branch.
After a few hours of planting the eggs, the job was finished. Prentiss and her class then returned to campus. “I think it was a fun and very interesting activity, more or less in our backyard. For me it was real exciting to be physically part of trying to save an endangered species,” said Prentiss.
The students in the class enjoyed the project as well. “I had a lot of fun going out in the woods – especially getting to snowshoe out to the egg site – it was a good time,” said Mariah Bonneau, a sophomore in the class.
Atlantic Salmon used to number in the millions, returning up the rivers to spawn in New England’s waterways. As European settlers progressed, mills and dams were placed on numerous rivers throughout the Northeastern United States. Gradually the population of Atlantic Salmon has declined enough so that scientists can count the few salmon that return to Maine waterways to spawn.
However, the salmon population is being helped along by the planting of eggs in Maine rivers to allow the species to come back. In addition to egg planting, dilapidated dams are being removed, (Farmington voted to remove during November) and people are building fish ladders (or elevators) for the fish to help them move up the rivers.
Maine is currently the only state where Atlantic Salmon still return up the rivers. The project that the Bio 110 class participated in is an attempt to raise the number of salmon to help the species survive.
“It is possible to bring back the salmon. The idea is that we can help them with part of the life cycle,” said Prentiss. “They say that the Sandy River may be one of the best, if not the best, [for the salmon] because of the temperature and flow, the structure of the gravel bed, the clean water, and the aquatic insects [for the salmon] to eat.”
The eggs are planted every year around late February or early March, and volunteers are always welcomed. Anyone interested in participating in next years egg planting can contact Paul Christman at Paul.Christman@maine.gov.