Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program:
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources


Understanding the perceptions and potential of aquaculture as a tool for Atlantic salmon restoration in Maine.

January 2020 - December 2025


Participating Agencies

The Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Atlantic Salmon is federally endangered and the current conservation program relies primarily on juvenile stocking to maintain broodstock. Despite decades of hatchery supplementation, extirpation remains a threat and natural reproduction is extremely limited. The Collaborative Management Strategy (CMS), the governance structure for Atlantic salmon management in Maine, is collaborating with Cooke Aquaculture to implement a novel rearing program to increase natural spawning. Native smolts will be transferred to coastal net pens and reared to maturation. Pre-spawn adults will then be released into high-quality spawning habitats. This effort is a major shift in management and has garnered mixed public reactions. Working with the CMS and other stakeholders, a questionnaire was administered to 900 households in Downeast, Maine via Drop-off and Pick-up methodology. Through this exploratory study of attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and agency trust we found positive attitudes toward Atlantic salmon, endangered species conservation, and conservation aquaculture. Attitudes toward commercial aquaculture and hatcheries were neutral to weakly positive. Participants reported low trust in the collaborating agencies and industry partners with regard to providing relevant information to the protection human and environmental safety. We compared the beliefs of residents who are geographically closest to the proposed net pen site and those in surrounding communities to disentangle issues of proximity to the project from other concerns. We found minimal evidence of local opposition, but there was also low public knowledge regarding Atlantic salmon in general. Coupled with high uncertainty in stakeholder values and generally neutral belief responses, the data suggest the community is uninformed and under engaged. As a result, the community may have a heightened susceptibility to influence, either from managers or special interest groups, that engage the community.