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Brookfield’s Ellsworth Maine Dam Continues to Kill Downstream Migrating Fish

Brookfield’s Ellsworth Dam continues to kill downstream migrating fish. Will there ever be enforcement action to stop this?

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Dead fish below Brookfield's Ellsworth Dam. Photo Downeast Salmon Federation

ELLSWORTH –  A just-conducted visit to Brookfield Renewable’s Ellsworth Dam by the Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF) has once again revealed stark evidence of a significant killing of downstream migrating river herring and American eel caused by the operation of the dam. This is at least the sixth consecutive fish migration season that the DSF has documented these fish being killed by Brookfield’s Ellsworth dam operations, despite repeated promises by Brookfield that they have “solved the problem” with interim measures and despite DSF repeatedly asking officials at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the State of Maine to take enforcement action to stop this killing.

On September 24, 2020, after observing dead juvenile river herring along the western shore of the Union River just below Brookfield’s Ellsworth Dam, DSF biologist Brett Ciccotelli discovered many dead river herring and a number of dead American eel underwater, utilizing a snorkel and underwater camera. All of the affected fish showed obvious signs of turbine entrainment. The video is available for public viewing on DSF’s youtube video and is attached to this message.

“Between this fish kill and the massive, on-going mussels die-offs Brookfield is causing up on Graham Lake and was reported by the Friends of Graham Lake earlier this week, this river is in trouble and has been for some time,” said DSF Executive Director Dwayne Shaw. “We need solutions from this multi-billion dollar corporation that restore this river and make it a healthy part of our region—both for fish and people. Instead, all we see is their litigation and attempts to delay a new license.”

A few hours after his first observation on September 24, Ciccotelli then observed hundreds of young river herring spilling over the 69-foot high face of the dam and striking exposed rocks and ledges, floating dead or disoriented downstream below the Ellsworth dam. “This apparent effort by Brookfield to address their failure to operate the proper downstream passage gate by flushing the fish over the high dam spillway only underscores the need for significant, structural changes at this project to protect the State’s natural resources,” said Ciccotelli. “DSF has long demanded that regulators require Brookfield to both build a deep gate at the dam to allow fish to exit there as well as excavate a “plunge pool” below the spillway to avoid the death we are

The documented fish deaths that DSF has been able to observe likely represent only a fraction of what is actually occurring during the downstream migration season, and come on the heels of the recent, major killing of freshwater mussels just upstream in Graham Lake due to Brookfield’s radical drawdowns of the water of Graham Lake to generate power.

“Everyone knows that if Brookfield were dealing with an internal mechanical problem that was hurting their ability to make money they would fix it right away. They need to approach their ongoing killing of natural resources with the same drive and determination,” said DSF Biologist Brett Ciccotelli

“This obscene annual killing cycle has gone on long enough; we need aggressive action from the federal and state agencies that are charged with protecting our natural resources,” said Dwayne Shaw. “It is simply unacceptable that year after year these fish migrate upstream to spawn and then are killed trying to get back to the ocean, with no action being taken to save the fisheries that belong to the people of Maine, not to Brookfield to do with as they wish.”

Video Links:

Video showing dead American eel from snorkel survey:

Video showing dead river herring, Union River shoreline, and dead baby river herring