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Greenland's Atlantic salmon quote worries conservationists in Maine

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ORONO, Maine — Commercial fishing activity nearly 2,000 miles away is worrying Maine conservationists working to restore Atlantic salmon to the Penobscot River.

At a recent summit, Greenland awarded itself an annual salmon quota of 45 metric tons for the next three years. Officials there say the new quota is considerably less than the previous harvest of 57 tons, and that reducing it further would have devastating economic consequences for fishing communities around the huge, sparsely populated island.

"The fact is that we're reducing the fishery a lot," Katrine Kaergard of Greenland's ministry of fisheries told Maine Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1No108B).

But some U.S. officials believe the salmon quota should be zero. They worry about the effect on vulnerable Atlantic salmon populations in the U.S.

"There will be U.S. origin fish," said Daniel Morris, the U.S. representative at a recent summit organized by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization. "Our salmon stocks are in such a precarious state that if we lose 10, 20, 50, 100 fish to the West Greenland fishery, it's a big deal."

The Penobscot has the largest population of wild Atlantic salmon in the U.S., but last year's count was fewer than 400. There are some encouraging signs, however. The removal of several dams, combined with a new fish lift, are enabling more fish to swim up the river. So far this year, more salmon have passed through the lift than were counted in all of 2014, but it's a fraction of the number needed to ensure survival of the species, said Laura Rose Day of the Penobscot River Restoration Project.

"Success in restoring this river requires a lot of different parties to play important roles," she said. "And controlling the take of fish in the ocean is extremely important."

For 80 years, the first Maine salmon taken from the Penobscot every year was sent to the White House. That tradition ended in 1992, when returning salmon populations in new England were in dramatic decline.

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