Reviving a river: From the Atlantic Salmon Federation
The Penobscot Project offers a rare, far ranging, and for the foreseeable future, our only opportunity to restore a significant run of Atlantic salmon in the southern range of the species. For the first time in 200 years this project will directly address the primary threat to Atlantic salmon restoration by reducing multiple dams in Maine’s largest salmon river, thus offering the real potential to reverse the longterm decline of salmon in the United States.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project has been the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s top U.S. priority since we began the initial discussions about removing dams with PPL Maine [the energy company that originally owned the Great Works, Veazie and Howland dams] back in 1999. Our interest in the Penobscot and this project stems from our belief that for wild salmon to be restored in Maine, the Penobscot must be part of the solution. And second, our belief that there are simply too many dams on the river to ever restore self-sustaining populations of salmon.
Simply put, the proposed decommissioning* of three dams on the Penobscot River represents the last, best chance for saving wild Atlantic salmon in the United States. However, we have never viewed this as a just a salmon project. The primary goal of this project is to restore to the river self-sustaining populations of all of the Penobscot’s once plentiful native anadromous fish species.
Atlantic salmon restoration in the Penobscot has been a single species focus for more than one hundred years. This approach has failed to stem the long-term decline of salmon and has not recognized or served well the other five other species of diadromous fish in the watershed that benefit multiple salmon life stages. Rainbow smelt, sea lamprey, alewives, blueback herring and American shad will all benefit greatly from the Penobscot Project. Presently, these five species are all at less than 1 percent of their historic numbers in the river but as has been seen on the Kennebec and other Maine rivers, they have the ability to rebound if given access to their spawning habitat.
Once completed, the Penobscot project will reopen 100 percent of the historic habitat for species such as Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon, tomcod, rainbow smelt, and striped bass that migrate to the falls at the base of the Penobscot Indian Reservation, while species like Atlantic salmon will gain access to 50 percent of their historic habitat with one dam passage.
Today, the stage is set to bring back the once prolific fisheries of the Penobscot River. The log drives have ended, severe water pollution has been cleaned up, and the commercial Greenland fishery for Atlantic salmon (where North American salmon congregate before migrating back to our coast) has been stopped. Working together to remove the most deadly dams for salmon, the Penobscot Project gives us renewed hope for wild Atlantic salmon and other migratory fisheries that not too long ago defined the rivers and coast of Maine.
*Decommissioning the three dams means that they will be taken off line, but not necessarily removed. The removal of Great Works dam started in June, and the removal of Veazie dam is anticipated to begin in 2013. The Howland dam will remain with an added nature-like fishway for salmon and other fish.
Read other posts about the Penobscot River Restoration Project, or read more from our series on fish passage