Every Fall Nature Calls

ArrayApril 16, 2020 at 1:16 pm

By Fisheries Biologist Liz Thorndike

Every fall, MDIFW fisheries biologists make their way to the banks of the Kennebago River, specifically to a place called Steep Bank Pool. The pool is known by many as a great place to fish or simply eat lunch and watch fish rise. So, why do biologists go? It’s an annual sampling event to collect landlocked salmon as they stage in the river’s natural pool, preparing to swim further upstream and spawn.

Why the Kennebago? The Kennebago River is the primary spawning and nursery tributary to Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Steep Bank Pool provides a unique opportunity to seine a large number of fish in a short amount of time, as there are few places in the state of Maine this occurs. Information is collected from all fish and gives an insight on the health of the individual fish, each age class, and the spawning population as a whole. All this information is compared to previous years, dating back to 1960, and used in conjunction with creel survey data to assist biologists in managing the fisheries and the regulations needed to best reach our management goals.

Fisheries biologists use a special net called a seine to catch large quantities of fish at one time so they can efficiently gather data from the fish and quickly release them.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake boasts picturesque views, large brook trout, and stunted salmon. Why are they stunted? Surprisingly, this is partly due to the Kennebago River and other tributaries providing beyond optimal spawning and nursery habitat. The other reason? Increasing angler release rates of landlocked salmon. A recent creel survey found 75% of legal-size salmon were released, a near record high, with an average length of 15.5 inches.  A comparison of data collected in 1999 found 42% of legal salmon caught were kept (58% released) and the average length was 18 inches. This past fall’s seining event also set a record high catch with over 250 salmon in one pull of the 100’ seine. The average spawning salmon was 15.5 inches in length and is similar to the ten-year average, demonstrating a lack of success to increase salmon lengths.

Liz transfers fish from the seine to smaller nets so they can begin taking measurements.

Biologists are faced with a double-edged sword: anglers don’t want to keep “small” or “thin” salmon and will wait for a respectable one, however, between the wild salmon answering natures call to spawn every fall and anglers releasing a high percentage of salmon, biologists are challenged as the population grows beyond a healthy threshold. 

What can you do to help? It’s easy, please keep a limit of legal salmon you catch! Don’t like eating salmon? Ask a friend or family member before you go if they’d like salmon if you’re successful. If you find yourself on Mooselookmeguntic Lake this coming year fishing and you catch a legal salmon, for the health of the fish and for the health of the lake, consider having salmon for dinner.