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Celebrating the Cultural Significance of Salmon

On a beautiful Saturday in May, we gathered with members from the Penobscot Nation, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and environmental groups to learn more about the significance of Atlantic salmon to our cultures. Hosted by the Penobscot Nation along the shores of the Penobscot River in Maine, the location was meaningful, as it is where the Penobscot Tribe has gathered for centuries for important meetings, weddings, and celebrations. Rivers were critical to the survival of the Tribes because they provided an essential source of protein from its fish and mollusks, as well as being a major transportation corridor. Holding this event enabled the Tribes to share the cultural and historical importance of these iconic fish to serve as a reminder of what could be lost if salmon were to go extinct in the United States.  

The rivers in Maine are also vital to the survival of the endangered Atlantic salmon, one of our Species in the Spotlight. Atlantic salmon spend part of their life in freshwater streams and rivers throughout historical Tribal lands in Maine and the other part maturing in the seas between Northeastern Canada and Greenland, returning to the river to spawn. In the United States, Atlantic salmon populations historically extended as far south as Long Island Sound. However, the southern populations have all been lost and today, the only remaining population of Atlantic salmon in U.S. waters is in Maine. These populations are now critically endangered and face imminent extinction.


Salmon Event Participants

Several presentations during the event highlighted the importance of Atlantic salmon to the Native American way of life. While focused on the cultural value of Atlantic salmon and other searun fish to the local and Native American cultures, presentations and discussions also included actions needed to recover the species. At the end of the day, the Penobscot Nation served a traditional meal of salmon, fiddleheads, fry bread, and blueberry cake.

This unique event underscored the various ways we must work together to promote salmon recovery and restore their ecosystems. The Penobscot Nation was an essential partner in the Penobscot River Restoration Project that resulted in the removal of two mainstem dams on the Penobscot River, improved fish passage facilities at two other dams, and the construction of a bypass channel around another dam on the Piscatiquis River - a major tributary to the Penobscot. 

We continue to work closely with the Penobscot Nation to negotiate improved fish passage at the remaining hydro-electric dams in the Penobscot River that affect searun fish with cultural significance to the Tribe.  We are also teaming up with the Tribes on the Atlantic salmon recovery framework, which is a partnership between NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Division of Marine Resources, and the Tribes. And we are partnering with the Penobscot Nation to enhance salmon habitat in the Penobscot Habitat Focus Area, which was designated in the Habitat Blueprint as an area of particular significance and concern.

To commemorate this event, we are working with the Penobscot’s Cultural and Historic Preservation Department to produce a short video which will bring awareness and education on the cultural value of the iconic Atlantic salmon. It will be available soon on our homepage at

Salmon Hunter Statue, Penobscot Indian Nation