This is a first in blog series observing National Native American Heritage Month through November. I am Zintkala Eiring, Junior Native American Liaison, and I will be sharing stories of Native American efforts in conservation.
The Penobscot Indian Nation is a federally recognized Native American Tribe in Maine. The Tribe possesses 200 islands within the Penobscot River, which accounts for 6,000 acres of reservation land. “Nə̀pi”, or “water” in the Penobscot dialect of the Eastern Algonquian language, is very important to the Penobscot people who live in the Penobscot River Watershed, the largest watershed in the State of Maine. Surface waters include 1,224 lakes, 188 rivers and streams which total 7,127 river miles (Penobscot Indian Nation, 2017).
The Penobscot River was first inhabited by the ancestors of the Penobscot Indian Nation. Archaeological evidence shows native inhabitants fished American shad 8,000 years ago and sturgeon 3,000 years ago from the Penobscot River. The Penobscot River is still the largest Atlantic salmon run remaining in the U.S., with 1,000-4,000 adult salmon annually, compared to 50,000 adult salmon historically (Penobscot River Restoration Trust, 2017).
Mattamiscontis means “a fishing place for alewives”. It is the stream that enters the west side of the Penobscot River above Howland, Maine. Migratory fish, including alewife, would fill the Penobscot River by the millions until dams were constructed in the 1830s and later. Traditionally, native peoples of the Northeast, including the Penobscot Indian Nation, used stone weirs along streams to harvest migratory fish. Atlantic salmon have not been able to be harvested because of the lack of sea-run fish above the Veazie dam. However, a wooden weir exists today in the Penobscot River drainage to capture adult American eels as they migrate to the ocean to spawn (Penobscot River Restoration Trust, 2017).
The Atlantic salmon was listed as endangered in 2011. The decline in the population was mostly from lack of habitat and connectivity of rivers used by spawning fish. For example, The Milford dam, West Enfield dam, and Weldom dam decrease the chances of connectivity for Atlantic salmon near the Penobscot Indian Nation’s territory. Additional riverbed damage occurred in the 1980’s from timber harvesting activities, destroying small protective pools for spawning fish.
The Penobscot Indian Nation applied to the Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grants (TWG) program and received funding for their 2017-2019 plan to increase the health of the culturally significant Atlantic salmon. The Tribe has been involved in the relicensing process for local hydropower dams, and in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) meetings. Additionally, the Penobscot Indian Nation has delivered several projects to restore stream connectivity in the Mattamiscontis River.
Daniel McCaw, the Fisheries Biologist for the Penobscot Indian Nation, has been leading the aquatic efforts. In fact, McCaw hopes to see a significant increase of blueback herring and alewife in the Mattamiscontis outlet, East, and South Lake.
The Penobscot Indian Nation’s Atlantic Salmon Enhancement project has created passages for spawning fish that haven’t existed since the Penobscot River was rerouted by roads and logging enterprises. The project has included the installation of arch culverts to increase stream connectivity and natural flow passages to improve migratory fish passage. “My five-year dream is to have tribal gatherings here with smoked alewife,” says Daniel McCaw, Tribal Wildlife Biologist.
The Atlantic Salmon enhancement project has been visibility successful by reconnecting the Penobscot River to its natural route. In Mattamiscontis stream, Atlantic salmon parr (juveniles) have been found. They were taken to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery to increase the population for release back into the watershed.
The Atlantic Salmon Enhancement project was made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Penobscot Indian Nation and the Tribal Wildlife Grant program of the Service. For more information on the program, please contact Richard Zane, email@example.com (the Northeastern TWG program coordinator) or Timothy Binzen, the Native American Liaison for the Service’s Northeastern and Southeast Regions firstname.lastname@example.org.