River-watchers saw a small uptick in the number of Atlantic salmon that returned to the Penobscot River this year, but the total — 840 — still meant that for a sixth consecutive year, fewer than 1,000 salmon were counted, according to data compiled by the Maine Department of Marine Resources Division of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat.
Since salmon returns began at the Veazie Dam in 1978 (now counts are done at Milford), that’s the longest string of sub-1,000 years recorded. Another four-year string of sub-1,000-fish years occurred from 1999 through 2002.
After a stellar return of 3,125 salmon in 2011, the flow of salmon into the Penobscot hasn’t maintained pace since. That total dropped to just 624 fish in 2012, 381 in 2013 and 256 in 2014 before edging up to 725 in 2015. A year ago, 501 fish were counted at the Milford Dam.
According to Jason Valliere, a marine resource scientist, 309 grilse, or younger fish, were caught at Milford. In addition, 250 multi-sea-winter males and 255 multi-sea-winter females were captured. Another 26 multi-sea-winter fish were counted, but passed through the dam while gates were open.
Of those fish, 50 grilse, 230 males and 235 females were taken to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in Orland to serve as broodstock.
More encouraging were trap counts on a few other species of fish counted at Milford. Among them, 1,256,061 river herring were counted, as were 3,868 American shad and 1,603 striped bass.