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The Experimental Method That Might Just Save Maine’s Salmon

By Ted Williams on An avid angler, Ted Williams has written about fish and wildlife conservation for Audubon, Slate, and other outlets. He last wrote for Down East in 2003, about an ineffectual attempt to control Maine’s population of eastern coyotes.

The Peter Gray Conservation Hatchery, on the East Machias River, might offer the last best hope for saving the U.S. population of sea-run Atlantic salmon — the “king of fish.”

Unlike most New England rivers, the East Machias River never quite lost its salmon. Every fall, a small remnant population swam upstream, against waters that tumble and curl 36 miles from Crawford Lake to the coast, through balsam-scented boreal forest where moose splash and eastern coyotes sing. The Downeast Salmon Federation’s weathered, cedar-shingled Peter Gray Hatchery sits along the bank, just below a narrow stretch of rapids that empties into the rive

r’s wide, flat tidal reaches.

The hatchery building was an abandoned power station — infested with rats, windows broken, officially designated by the town of East Machias as a “slum and blight site” — before the federation moved in. Now, instead of rats, the place is full of salmon in various stages of development, swimming around in a couple of dozen tanks through which unfiltered river water flows. The damp air always has a fishy scent.

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