It is not immediately clear why, after so much assistance, Atlantic salmon stubbornly resist populating the Connecticut River in great numbers, as they were said to have done more than 200 years ago.
Perhaps changes in water temperature in the North Atlantic are to blame. Maybe salmon-eating fish are a factor. It may even be that reports of huge salmon runs in the 18th century are exaggerations.
Whatever the reason, the numbers just aren't there. So, after 45 years of trying, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has recently ended its attempt to restore Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut. It's a loss for the state.
Despite decades of work, only 58 adult salmon returned to the river to spawn this year, according to the state Bureau of Natural Resources. That's a far cry from the hundreds counted in the early 1980s and mid-1990s, and about half of the 2011 count. One can hardly blame the DEEP for deciding that enough is enough — a decision that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service already made this past summer.
The salmon restoration program, which cost upward of $200 million, was not entirely in vain. One side effect of the initiative is that the river and its tributaries "are much, much cleaner than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago," according to the Connecticut River Watershed Council.
And thanks to fish ladders built to help salmon swim upstream despite dams, other migratory species have thrived. This past spring, almost 1 million shad returned to the river to spawn — the biggest shad run in two decades.
Although the main restoration effort is over, some smaller programs will continue. One involves students' raising salmon from eggs and stocking local streams. A state hatchery will continue to supply salmon for several smaller rivers.
Ending attempts to reintroduce salmon to the Connecticut River doesn't mean the project shouldn't have been begun. It might have worked — and those who took part deserve thanks for their decades of trying.