Thomas Morrison of Winterport has a fishing tale.
He was ice fishing with his son on Jan. 28 in eastern Maine. Just 20 minutes into their departure, they pulled an impressive fish through the ice: a 28-inch, 5-pound salmon.
The excitement of the capture was later dampened by an unexpected development. Morrison didn’t realize, until after he posted a photo on the Maine Ice Fishing Facebook page, that he had caught an Atlantic salmon.
A few members of the Facebook group noticed that a piece of the fish’s adipose fin, at the top, near the tail, had been cut off. The Maine Department of Marine Resources marks the adipose fin this way to indicate that the fish had been counted as part of their monitoring program.
Atlantic salmon, which have been federally protected under the Endangered Species Act since 2000, return to some Maine rivers each year to spawn. Some even go up tributaries and lakes. But for someone to catch one of these fish is an unusual occurrence. It happens about once every two years, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Fortunately for Morrison, who was unaware of the fin cut, he practices catch and release.
“It was hot that day and the fish was released alive and well,” he said.
Maine is home to the only native stocks of Atlantic salmon in the United States. For many years, the fish were a prized catch for sport fishermen, who visited the Penobscot River in large numbers.
The Department of Marine Resources estimates that 1,325 Atlantic salmon passed through Penobscot River dams in Orono and Milford in 2022. This is the second-highest yield in 11 years.
The department, which oversees the state’s marine fisheries, confirmed that Atlantic salmon sometimes reach inland waters.
“Based on the photo and the size given, it appears to be an Atlantic salmon that has spent several winters at sea compared to a grilse, which would have only spent one winter at sea and would be smaller,” a department spokesman said . . “Although the body of water is not identified, we do know that Atlantic salmon overwinter in some lakes in Maine.”
News of the capture quickly reached the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and a representative contacted Morrison to hear his story.
“I would like to help inform everyone who is as excited as I am about fishing in Maine so they can help educate other anglers about the rules and regulations for Atlantic salmon and brown trout,” Morrison said , who hopes his experience will benefit others. fishermen
Maine’s inland fishing laws include a special code, S-33, that sets the maximum length for salmon and brown trout at 25 inches in the 45 lakes and ponds that carry the restriction. Of those, 24 are in Washington County and 14 are in Hancock County. All are connected to watersheds that include Atlantic salmon habitat.
“This special code is designed to protect Atlantic salmon from the sea, as the average multi-winter Atlantic salmon is over 25 inches,” the Department of Marine Resources spokesman said.
Morrison noted that the S-33 code does not apply to the water he was fishing, which he declined to identify. He predicted that he will soon be added to the list.
The unusual catch of Atlantic salmon coincides with a new initiative the Department of Marine Resources launched on Friday.
“DMR announces outreach program to help recreational anglers understand applicable laws and best practices to protect endangered Atlantic salmon, including how to safely release one if caught accidentally,” the department said. “Since Atlantic salmon and landlocked Atlantic salmon look alike, it’s important to know the laws that apply to the body of water you’re fishing in.”
The department stressed that whenever an angler is unsure of a fish’s identity, it is best to release it immediately.
The state’s landlocked salmon regulations are tied to its efforts to protect Atlantic salmon. In rivers and streams, there is a minimum of 14 inches and a maximum of 25 inches for landlocked salmon.
This is because salmon measuring between 14 and 25 inches are likely to be landlocked salmon, while those under 14 inches and larger than 25 inches have a high potential to be Atlantic salmon navigated the sea
The 14-inch minimum also applies to landlocked salmon in lakes and ponds, while waters with the S-33 designation set the maximum at 25 inches.
Atlantic salmon, known as parr, can also be confused with brook trout, the department said. That’s why the minimum size for brook trout is 6 inches.
If fishermen find themselves in a situation similar to Morrison’s, they should immediately release the fish unharmed as soon as they recognize it as an Atlantic salmon.
Anglers should review the fishing rules before visiting their favorite lake or pond. All information can be found using the Maine Fishing Laws online fishing tool.