I grew up in midcoast Maine and caught my first striped bass and bluefish in the Kennebec River in the early ’90s. Decades before I was born, my great-uncle fished for Atlantic salmon in Maine.
After a decade in the Pacific Northwest, I recently returned. When I moved to Washington state, efforts were underway to remove two dams from the Elwha River, on the Olympic Peninsula. These dams were removed between 2012 and 2014.
According to data from National Park Service, NOAA, and others, winter steelhead and chinook, pink, and coho salmon were all observed above the former downstream dam site within six months of removal. Summer steelhead (anadromous rainbow trout with a life cycle comparable to Atlantic salmon), once thought to be extinct in the river, have now returned.
Before moving west, I studied at Bates College, where I worked on a project that investigated economic benefits from recreational fishing due to the removal of Edwards Dam in 1999. Our research concluded, “We find significant benefits have accrued to anglers using the restored fishery. Specifically, anglers are spending more to visit the fishery, a direct indication of the increased value anglers place on the improved fishery. Anglers are also willing to pay for increased angling opportunities on the river.” (From “Demolish It And They Will Come,” 2008.)
Any potential action requires a thorough cost-benefit analysis; these two studies clearly exhibit some of the benefits that result from dam removal. To ensure populations of Atlantic salmon survive, dam removal is necessary. In addition, we will also revitalize neighboring, local economies.