In what fisheries conservationists say may be the best chance to prevent the extinction of Atlantic salmon in Maine rivers, the state’s Department of Marine Resources is seeking public input on a proposed Kennebec River Management Plan.
The plan could result in the removal of two dams that currently stop fish from swimming farther than Waterville.
The hearing, which will be held virtually, is set for 3 p.m. Tuesday. Participants must register for the event. Comments on the plan, in which the Department of Marine Resources recommends removing the Lockwood Dam in Waterville and the Shawmut Dam in Fairfield, will be accepted until Feb. 26.
Currently, there are four upstream dams that prevent fish from swimming upstream and reaching the Sandy River, a natural spawning area for salmon and other fish. Conservationists say relying on fishways or other fish passage at dams is not adequate; instead, the dams should be removed entirely, according to several groups.
Jeff Reardon, the Maine Brook Trout Project Director for Trout Unlimited, said the time is right to begin removing more dams on the Kennebec.
“Every place in Maine we have removed a dam near the mouth of a large river, we have successfully restored thriving populations of river herring and shad, and seen some success with salmon restoration,” Reardon said. “There is no place in Maine — or anywhere else — where these species have been restored over more than one dam with fishways. After 20 years of unsuccessful fishways on the Kennebec, it’s time to try what we know works, and remove these four dams.”
In a position paper, The Kennebec Coalition — a group of organizations that support fisheries conservation efforts on the river — said that the Kennebec River has been reborn in the stretches that were opened up by the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999. Above Waterville, however, things are much different, and dams block passage to fish that would otherwise have access to miles of habitat.
The Kennebec Coalition said that, historically, the Kennebec supported Atlantic salmon runs in the hundreds of thousands each year. In 2019, only 56 salmon made it past the Lockwood Dam.
The hearing will begin with an overview of the management plan. Members of the public will have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions that are specific to the content of the plan. Public comment will also be allowed, according to the Department of Marine Resources.