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NATURE

Gene study seeks 'wildness' of Atlantic salmon

ENN



The sea grant study will help determine if there are any 'wild' salmon left in Maine.<
The sea grant study will help determine if there are any 'wild' salmon left in Maine.  

October 25, 1999
Web posted at: 12:44 p.m. EDT (1644 GMT)

The sea grant study will help determine if there are any 'wild' salmon left in Maine. The findings of a $100,000 Sea Grant Study on the genetic history of Atlantic salmon in Maine could be critical in a pending decision on whether or not to place the fish on the Endangered Species List.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed the listing of eight river runs of North Atlantic salmon. The listing would replace an existing voluntary state of Maine conservation plan.

In efforts to maintain the current conservation plan, Gov. Angus King and state officials contend that there are no longer any 'wild' salmon left in Maine's rivers. Instead, the state claims that that the fish swimming in the proposed rivers are descendants of stocking programs.

The study led by Irv Kornfield, a professor of zoology at the University of Maine, may help solve that puzzle by providing answers that are based on science.

Kornfield and his colleagues will determine the impact that hatchery raised salmon have had on native fish stocks in the eight proposed river runs which include the Narragauagus, Pleasant, Machias, East Machias, Dennys, Sheepscot Ducktrap and Cove Brook rivers.

"No previous study has allowed the evaluation of the impact of hatchery stocking activities on Penobscot river Salmon," said Chris Lage, a graduate student working with Kornfield on the study.

The problem is that the fish that formed the base of the hatchery brood stock used to replenish salmon in Maine's rivers came from the Penobscot River until 1992, when state officials began a river-specific stocking program that placed descendents only in rivers their stock came from.

salmon
Kornfield and his colleagues will determine the impact that hatchery-raised salmon have had on native fish stocks.  
Kornfield will try to find out if the proposed salmon contain distinct genetic material or if they trace back to the Penobscot.

"Given that the original Penobscot River fish have not been genetically studied in detail as a source population, it is difficult to evaluate the genetic information from around the state in an objective manner without going back in time to trace the genetic lines," Kornfield said.

Using DNA technology, Kornfield will read the DNA sequences on old Penobscot salmon scales and compare them to the sequences taken from recent wild generations.

By comparing the genes of Penobscot salmon to the genes of the wild population, Kornfield will be able to evaluate the genetic differences between them. How intensely the differences appear will show how domesticated the wild stocks are.

If the results show that the proposed salmon are genetically distinct from the Penobscot salmon, the listing could be further warranted. "Very clearly if you find an organism that is extremely rare, the uniqueness of that species would demand that we protect the evolutionary integrity of that species," Kornfield said. "Multiple salmon on the West Coast are protected because they are genetically distinguished."

Kornfield is a nationally recognized expert in using DNA genetic markers to determine how much genetic variation passes from one generation to the next and the population sizes needed to maintain that diversity. The initial results of the study are expected next summer.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved



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RELATED SITES:
Atlantic Salmon Federation
Trout Unlimited
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
National Marine Fisheries Service
National Sea Grant
ENN Direct.
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