December 2017 Peter Gray Hatchery Update

Holy smokes! Not sure if any of you knew this, but it is almost the end of December. Time flies when you’re having fun. I trust this update on the Peter Gray Hatchery finds you well.

Maine's East Machias River covered in snowAs I look out my office window and see the East Machias River, bordered by river banks covered in fresh snow, pushing against the incoming tide, it occurs to me…the scene playing outside my window parallels salmon restoration. Salmon restoration is the river pushing against the tide…there are highs and lows, but it is constant. Just as the salmon are still trying after countless years, we (you, me, the human race) need to continue to strive for river systems that not only support healthy populations of salmon, but provide clean water and habitat for a plethora of other species.

“I think we’re going to the moon because it’s in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It’s by the nature of his deep inner soul… we’re required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream.” -Neil Armstrong

Redd counts completed in the East Machias River this year revealed 4 redds (the places in the river where female salmon deposit their eggs in the gravel). Initial estimates would point to 4-6 adult salmon returning to the river. Although discouraging, the result was not that unexpected. The winter of 2015 in Downeast Maine was one for the record books and it had a significant impact (of the bad variety) on the smolt population that left the river that Spring. Given marine survival what it is and that only a couple hundred smolt entered the Atlantic that year (these are the smolt returning this year), the numbers of redds was lower.

It is important though, to keep certain things in perspective. Although it is a lower number of adults than we all would like to see, it is another year of data to help determine if the parr stocked in the East Machias return at higher percentage rates than fry, or smolt stocked salmon. Also, important to remember is that adult returns next year and the year after will be from smolt cohorts of around 1300 and 1900 smolt respectively. It is a numbers game…the more smolt we can send to the Atlantic, the better the chance of more adult salmon returning to the East Machias River.

Lets not forget that Atlantic salmon are wild animals and although we do thorough redd counts, I like to think that there could be some out there we didn’t see. Perhaps in places we didn’t expect, or perhaps on a stretch of river that we canoed over while the water was too high, or the sun to low.

To quote Neil Armstrong (again – apparently a theme today), “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

I am excited to see what adult returns are like the next few years, let alone after operating the Project for another 5 years!

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to reach out to me at I hope this report finds you well and you enjoyed reading about the Peter Gray Parr Project . Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do, in the pursuit of Atlantic salmon restoration! I wish each and everyone of you a happy holiday season.

Kind Regards,

Zach Sheller
Hatchery Manager

Peter Gray Hatchery Expansion Update

Please enjoy the pictures below that document the building of the hatchery expansion. Walls, roof, and insulation oh my! There are even windows, the steel frame to support the new head tanks, and roughed in electrical work.

Still to come: well the list is long, but will include lighting, a head tank, plumbing, and of course hatchery setup. Much left to do, but it will be an exciting time in our quest of restoring salmon in the East Machias River.

Just as the salmon keep swimming, we continue to help them face the challenges to restoration. All of which couldn’t happen without the help we’ve received and continue to receive from all of you.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reports, this expansion will allow the salmon growing in the Peter Gray Hatchery to be spread out into more tanks. Decreasing the densities in each tank will help lower the stress of the salmon and give them an even better environment to develop into the “little athletes” that will survive in the East Machias River, and later, the Atlantic Ocean. Lean, mean swimming machines!

About Redd Counting

As the Parr Project moves forward, an important piece of assessing the success of our efforts is determining the number of adults that have returned to spawn in the East Machias River. Some rivers have adult fish trapping facilities on them, usually associated with a dam or weir structure. This makes getting accurate adult salmon counts a little easier, but at the cost of having an impediment in the river. Because the East Machias River does not have an adult trapping facility, redd counts must be conducted.

A redd is basically a nest that a salmon creates on the river bottom. The female will excavate a pit with her tail creating a depression in the gravel for her to lay her eggs. Once her eggs are laid and fertilized, she covers the pit with gravel to protect them and lays more eggs in the resulting pit. A redd may consist of several of these pits. The result is a disturbed section of stream bed about 7 feet long. This disturbed gravel stands out very well against the dark, undisturbed stream bottom, and makes it easy for surveyors to see. Each female will generally make two of these redds in a spawning season. Because there will be at least one male per female making the redd, it is generally accepted that one redd = one fish.

Redd counts are conducted around November when fish will be close to finished with spawning. Poling a canoe is generally the best way to survey; it gives a great vantage point, moving around in deep water is much easier, and your feet stay dry and out of the cold November water.

2017 Final Smolt Trap Totals

Population Estimate 1697 +/-344 with 209 estimated smolts below the trapping site. (2016 was 1223 +/-297 with 209 estimated smolts below the trapping site)

Hatchery: 210 (2016 was 179)

Wild: 48 (2016 was 27)

Unknown Origin: 2

Recaptured: 51

Parr: 1 (hatchery)

Adult: 1 (unknown origin)

NOTE: These smolt trap total numbers indicate the number of smolt captured at the smolt trap operated by the Downeast Salmon Federation and the Maine Department of Marine Resources at the Jacksonville bridge on Rt. 191 on the East Machias River. “Hatchery” indicates fish that were reared at the Peter Gray Hatchery and marked with an adipose fin clip. “Wild” indicates smolt that were not marked and were naturally reared. “Recaptured” indicate smolt that were captured, released upstream, and re-captured in the trap as part of this mark-recapture study design for smolt trapping.

Read More Peter Gray Parr Project Updates

Help us Restore Maine's Wild Atlantic Salmon Population

$1 per parr. Restore one or restore thousands. All donations will make a difference!

The goal of the Peter Gray Parr Project is to increase the number of parr raised and stocked to over 2,000,000. At an estimated cost of just over $1 per parr, we must raise 2.2 million dollars to support this restoration. For every dollar donated, contributors will quite literally be putting more parr in the East Machias River and directly impacting the restoration of Maine's wild Atlantic salmon population.


Restore over 2,000,000 Wild Atlantic Salmon Parr to the East Machias River.


Financial progress towards restoring over 2,000,000 Wild Atlantic Salmon Parr into the East Machias River

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