The President’s Salmon: Restoring the King of Fish and its Home Waters

coverPublished by Down East Books/Rowman & Littlefield, July 2015

Every spring, for thousands of years, the rivers that empty into the North Atlantic Ocean turn silver with migrating fish. Among the crowded schools once swam the King of Fish, the Atlantic salmon. From New York to Labrador, from Russia to Portugal, sea-bright salmon defied current, tide, and gravity, driven inland by instinct and memory to the very streams where they themselves emerged from gravel nests years before. The salmon pools and rivers of Maine achieved legendary status among anglers and, since 1912, it was tradition that the first salmon caught in the Penobscot River each spring was presented to the President of the United States. The last salmon presented was in 1992, to George H. W. Bush. That year, the Penobscot counted more than 70 percent of the salmon returns on the entire Eastern seaboard, yet that was only two percent of the river’s historic populations. Dams, commercial fishing, and environmental degradation had decimated Atlantic salmon populations in their home waters.

The President’s Salmon presents a rich cultural and biological history of the Atlantic salmon and the salmon fishery, primarily revolving around the Penobscot River, the last stronghold for the salmon in America and the stage for the preservation of the species.

Praise and shout-outs:

For culinarily inclined readers, the science writer Catherine Schmitt has catalogued almost all Presidential salmon meals in her book, “The President’s Salmon.” – The New Yorker

A great read. In The President’s Salmon, science writer Catherine Schmitt explores the history of national environmental policy and local history. For each president who received a salmon, she profiles culinary tastes, commercial and recreational fishing trends, presidential philosophy on fish and rivers, and how national laws affected Maine’s Penobscot River, people, and salmon. The natural history of salmon is woven throughout the chapters. – Ted Williams, Fly Rod & Reel

This is an ambitious and well-researched book on the struggles of Salmo salar to survive decades of a roller coaster ride on one river. It is the story of a tug-of-war of paper mills, hydropower companies and state agencies against fishermen, environmental advocates and scientists…Schmitt has an ability and agility to move easily from natural history and science to environmental politics. – The Working Waterfront

Schmitt’s storyline traces the river’s history from prehistoric times, at times focusing on different stretches of the river and the environmental decisions that led to a less productive Penobscot, and then its ongoing rejuvenation. Every other chapter, she focuses her attention on an angler who caught the first fish of the season — the Presidential Salmon — and arranged to have it delivered to the sitting president. Those presidents, as Schmitt wrote, were sometimes friends of the nation’s rivers. At other times, they were far less concerned with the environment and more focused on helping the country’s industries thrive… Schmitt walks a delicate balance, mixing hardcore science with in-depth history.Bangor Daily News

This history of the fish and its evolution in American waters is a ‘must’ for any collection strong in ecology in general and fish conservation in particular.California Bookwatch

Conservation-minded readers who enjoyed Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish, those interested in natural history, fishers, and both Maine residents and visitors will appreciate this well-written work. – Library Journal

A book of creative nonfiction, this is an account of the situation of Atlantic salmon and wilderness Down East by a professional science journalist… The author documents the paradox of modern urbanized conservation; people eat more salmon than ever, and things called Atlantic salmon are common on the market, but the wild Atlantic salmon is near extinction. And as the author documents with fierce attention, as a result so are a host of proud human-and American-traditions and the cultures of people who depended on them. The book notes that salmon are among the most difficult species to restore in the wild, because they require a clean environment from springhead to sea. So while the story keeps a focus on the efforts to restore Atlantic salmon, it also documents the frameworks of values and choices that have destroyed them on the coast of New York City and Washington. Because many defenders of wild Atlantic salmon spring from conservative or Puritan roots, the author frames issues differently than typical conservation writing in the California style. Though it is written in an engaging style for general readers, the book is meticulously researched, and has extensive endnotes. – Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (