BANGOR DAILY NEWS
Passing of biologist who helped restore salmon in Penobscot marks ‘end of an era’
By John Holyoke, BDN Staff • May 17, 2018 3:30 pm
Updated: May 17, 2018 3:32 pm
In the 1950s and ’60s, when the Penobscot River was a polluted mess, at least one fisheries scientist saw the potential that river represented.
What if the river was cleaned up, and fish passage was provided. What if Atlantic salmon were restored?
Alfred Meister thought that would be a mighty good thing. And he spent considerable time trying to convince others that a viable salmon run on the Penobscot would be an economic benefit for Bangor and the state of Maine.
He was right, and when salmon began swimming upriver again a few years later, many others celebrated the beginning of a resurgence in salmon angling on the Penobscot.
Meister, who served the state for 30 years, including 21 as chief biologist for the Atlantic Sea-Run Salmon Commission, remained active in conservation matters through his retirement. On Tuesday, Meister passed away at 90 years of age.
A former colleague, biologist Norm Dube, called Meister’s death “the end of an era.” Dube, also a retired fisheries biologist who worked with salmon, said his career overlapped with Meister’s for about 10 years.
“By the time I was hired at an entry level biologist position, Al was the chief biologist of the Atlantic Sea-Run Salmon Commission. He was directing research/management projects as opposed to ‘getting his hands dirty,’” Dube wrote in an email. “What stands out about Al was his conviction that Atlantic salmon restoration could not occur without the support of the public, people who had a stake in the program.”
Dube said Meister knew if people were fishing for salmon, they’d become engaged in conservation efforts.
“Al was a proponent of a sport fishery for Atlantic salmon as a means for developing support for restoration and some smolt stocking strategies were instituted to enhance the sport fishery,” Dube wrote. “Al was big on the economic impact of an Atlantic salmon sport fishery and believed that support for restoration should be tied to the economic benefits of the sport fishery.”
And Dube said Meister was not one to stand silently by when conservation tactics and policy were being discussed.
“Being a young biologist early in my career, I was often amazed how Al voiced his opinion at meetings between state and federal agencies,” Dube wrote. “He was not afraid to ruffle a few feathers to get his point across. Right or wrong, I marveled at his conviction in what he truly believed was/were the proper method(s) to undertake project(s) or management program(s). Al was an important figure in the Atlantic salmon arena and certainly made his mark. His passing is the end of an era.”
Another co-worker, Randy Spencer, had his career overlap with Meister’s for four years. He said Meister did important research into issues that affected salmon survival.
“One of Al’s greatest contributions was [toward] an investigation of Atlantic salmon behavior and migration patterns in the sea, which were largely a mystery when Al began his career in the 1950s,” Spencer wrote in an email. “He helped develop and implement an international inter-agency salmon tagging program that spanned three decades and involved much of the northwest Atlantic ocean. Al took great satisfaction knowing that because of those studies, salmon harvest regulations were implemented in Greenland and Atlantic Canada that saved thousands of salmon heading home to the U.S. As his assistant during the final years of that phase, I came to appreciate the depth of his knowledge, his discipline, and methodical recordkeeping which made analysis of those data sets possible. He shared much of that knowledge with me during that time, for which I have always been grateful.”
Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said Meister’s work made a difference.
“I had the opportunity over the years to talk with Al many times. He was truly dedicated to restoring and protecting Maine’s Atlantic salmon,” Keliher wrote in an email. “Al’s work is still relevant today. Not many meetings go by that his name is not referenced. He will be missed.”
I received a call from Maine Game Warden Jim Fahey on Thursday that might be of interest to Bangor-area and Orono-area anglers.
Fahey shared news that 500 brook trout in the 12-inch size range were stocked in the Stillwater River adjacent to the University of Maine campus on Wednesday, repeating a stocking that was performed a year ago.
Some of the trout were stocked at the Steam Plant parking lot, while others were stocked farther upstream. And there’s no need to feel guilty about following the hatchery truck to find some productive fishing, Fahey said.
“We don’t want these fish to be a secret,” he said. “We want people to get out there and fish for ’em.”
There you have it: That’s a clear invitation to fish if I’ve ever heard one.
And if you’re looking for more fishing suggestions, you can find a full fish stocking list at mefishwildlife.com.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.