by Charles A. Monagan
Sep 17, 2012
08:16 AMOn Connecticut
One Stubborn Fish
When we published the cover story, at left, in May 1994, the federal and state program to restore the Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River and its tributaries had already cost more than $200 million in taxpayer and utility ratepayer money. Given that only about 50 of a projected 5,000 to 10,000 salmon were returning to spawn here each year, we wondered how much longer the expensive program could continue. We certainly didn’t imagine that it could go on for another 18 years.
Yet it wasn’t until earlier this summer that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finally pulled the plug on what must stand as one of the least effective government projects since the Maginot Line. Since 1967, many millions of juvenile salmon fry and smolts were raised in hatcheries and then released into the river system with the hope they’d survive and grow, swim away to the ocean south of Greenland and then naturally find their way back “home” to spawn and introduce new, self-sustaining generations to the river.
But in all the program’s 45 years—despite the extraordinary measures taken to accommodate them with costly fish ladders and kid-glove handling—only about 5,500 salmon ever came back. The damage caused centuries ago by the damming of the rivers and blocking of salmon habitats, not to mention the polluting of the water, could not be overcome.
Government officials involved with the program point out that even if the salmon did not return, other benefits have accrued. For one thing, the river system is cleaner and flows more freely in part as a result of the restoration program. For another, other fish, such as shad, are now returning in good numbers.
Of course, no angler, diner or observer of nature will ever mistake a shad for a salmon. But it seems we must take our victories where we find them, no matter what the cost.