The Penobscot River is New England's second largest river draining 8,570 square miles, or about one-third of Maine. For thousands of years sea-run fish migrations defined this river, which once provided a seamless connection of life between the Gulf of Maine and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems deep inland. The Penobscot River Restoration Project's reconfiguration of dams will have a wide range of benefits to fish and wildlife populations, water quality and communities along the river. Fisheries:
Our rivers and streams once provided a seamless connection of life between the Gulf of Maine and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems deep inland. For thousands of years fish freely traveled up and down the river. These tremendous migrations once defined the Penobscot.
- Historically, the Penobscot River held Maine's largest populations of Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish, with annual salmon runs estimated at 50,000-70,000 adults prior to 1830.
- Today the Penobscot has limited native populations of Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewives, blueback herring, American eels, smelt, striped bass, tomcod, and sea lamprey.
- Now, populations of many of these fish are at or near all time lows due to migratory barriers, over-harvest, severe water pollution, and habitat degradation caused by log drives and dams.
While many of these problems have been addressed, multiple dams on the river continue to impede safe upstream and downstream passage for sea-run fish. The Penobscot River Restoration Project is the first project to provide an essential ingredient for the successful restoration of Atlantic salmon and the ten other species of native sea-run fish in the Penobscot – their ability to reach vast quantities of productive spawning and rearing habitat. Specifically:
- This project will reestablish the river's historic connection to the ocean, dramatically improving access to nearly 1,000 miles of river habitat.
- Several species including striped bass, both species of Sturgeon and rainbow smelt will regain their entire historical habitat.
- This project will improve access to hundreds of miles of river and dozens of lakes and ponds that historically provided habitat for shad, alewife, blueback herring and American eel.
- Federal biologists believe alewife runs could increase from a few thousand to several million, and American shad from near zero to 1.5 million annually.
Maine harbors the nation's last remaining truly wild Atlantic salmon. Scientists say this project is the single-most significant step to take to recover Maine's salmon population.
Ecosystem and Wildlife:
- The National Academy of Sciences report, Atlantic salmon in Maine, released in January of 2005 stated that the highest priority for restoring the endangered Atlantic salmon is dam removal. The report went on to say "the recent agreement to remove two Penobscot River dams is encouraging."
- Sixty to seventy percent of all United States Atlantic salmon spawn in the Penobscot, but only 3 percent of the river's historic spawning habitat lies below its lowermost dam - Veazie.
- This project will allow Atlantic salmon to regain half of their historical habitat in the river with just one dam passage (Milford Dam), which will have a new fish lift installed.
- Federal biologists predict that, over time, yearly Atlantic salmon runs could increase from the low thousands today to the 10,000-12,000 range.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project goes far beyond restoring migratory fish. The benefits extend to the whole ecosystem and the Gulf of Maine. Removal of the Great Works and Veazie Dams will restore natural functions of the lower river. For example:
Tribal Cultural and Tradition:
- Nutrients derived from sea-run fish will reach farther up river, and the natural flushing of sediments will reach Penobscot Bay, restoring a natural cycle to the river.
- The restoration of sea-run fish to the river will enhance the supply of food sources for a wide variety of fish and wildlife inhabiting the Gulf of Maine including: important commercial species such as cod, haddock, pollock, halibut, and tuna; important recreational species such as striped bass and bluefish; and species that are threatened or federally protected such as bald eagles, seals, and whales.
- Burgeoning fish populations will provide new feeding opportunities for aquatic birds and mammals such as kingfishers, river otters, osprey, and bald eagles. Waterfowl, such as the Barrows goldeneye, should find plenty of winter food in open waters. Sea-run fish are also less likely than resident fish to be contaminated.
- Newly created habitat will support aquatic insects, mussels, amphibians, and turtles.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project will restore the Penobscot Indian Nation's ability to obtain sustenance and cultural identity from the river that bears their name.
Community and Economic:
- The river has been the homeland to the Penobscots for over 10,000 years.
- For over 100 years, the Penobscot Indian Nation has been deprived of the opportunity to exercise their tribal fishing rights because the river is virtually devoid of its native sea-run fisheries above Veazie Dam.
- The Penobscots have a traditional and sacred practice of sustenance fishing, but have harvested only two salmon since 1980 in deference to the fragility of salmon populations.
- This project will bring a free-flowing Penobscot River and its fisheries back to the Penobscot Indian reservation.
There have been tremendous improvements in the Penobscot River over the past 30 years largely due to the reduction of industrial pollution, resulting in greatly improved water quality. This partnership seeks to continue building on the significant improvement in water quality to enhance the overall health of the river. A once-again free-flowing Penobscot with rebounding fisheries will create new opportunities for communities along the river.
- Over time, a restored river could contribute to the revitalization of social, recreational, and business opportunities along the Penobscot benefiting local citizens, local businesses, guides, outfitters, and recreational and commercial fisherman.
- Following the announcement of the project in October 2003, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) secured $30,000 from the Department of Commerce (DOC) for community asset information gathering in the affected communities.
- The Town of Veazie led a community initiative in which they received a $10,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for use in preliminary economic planning exercises.
- The Veazie Salmon Club-- the nation's first salmon club-- was once known for its tradition of sending the first salmon caught each year to the U.S. President. President George Bush in 1992 was the last President to participate in this tradition, which was suspended due to declining wild Atlantic salmon populations.
- Many new and improved recreational opportunities, including canoeing, kayaking, fishing, river festivals, and wildlife watching, could become possible on the Penobscot bringing an influx of recreational enthusiasts and their dollars.
- Shad festivals, for example, generate substantial revenue each spring in river communities along the Susquehanna River in Connecticut and the Hudson River in New York.
Relicensing and pending appeals for various hydropower dams along the Penobscot have been lingering for decades, costing untold amounts of time, money, and environmental damage. The disputes are not purely environmental – they run to the very core of relationships among the various parties – jurisdictional disputes between the State and the Penobscot Indian Nation, fish passage disputes between all parties, the company and State's challenge to federal authority to protect fisheries, and more. The Penobscot River Restoration Project established common ground among these interests in the following ways:
- The company will have the opportunity to maintain essentially all current power production.
- The conservation groups and Penobscot Indian Nation will support PPL Corporation and now Black Bear Hydro's generation increases in this area, as part of the overall improved balance of energy, fisheries, and wildlife.
- * This will allow the company to focus on efficient energy production at its remaining generation sites.
- The company will gain a predictable way to meet its fish passage obligations on the Penobscot River.
- Staffing levels at Black Bear Hydro are not expected to change because of the project
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