An analysis released today by NOAA Fisheries ignores the threat to sea-run fish posed by four dams on Maine’s Kennebec River, according to a leading fisheries biologist and local Maine conservationists. The decision specifically understates the potential for extinction of endangered Atlantic salmon if the four dams are allowed to continue operating.
“We have been tweaking East Coast fishways for over fifty years now, and they have failed to restore migratory fish populations. There’s no reason to believe they ever will,” said scientist, educator, and author Dr. John Waldman. “We can effect real change with removals of these dams on the Kennebec River.”
Based on a press release issued by NOAA, the Biological Opinion that will be issued ignores the science and facts argued by conservationists in court and other venues over the past decade: that Brookfield’s four Kennebec dams between Waterville and Skowhegan prevent the recovery of critically endangered Atlantic salmon and block the migration of other fish species, including American shad, American eel, alewives, and blueback herring, that are essential to the health of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and commercial fisheries.
NOAA’s decision also paints a falsely optimistic picture of Brookfield’s fish passage proposals. Overwhelming evidence indicates this is a path to extinction for Atlantic salmon and failure for the continued restoration of the Kennebec. Fishways have not proven effective anywhere else in the world where Atlantic salmon need to pass four dams in a row.
The Kennebec Coalition (Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Rivers, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter) and the Conservation Law Foundation released the following statement in response to the Biological Opinion:
“NOAA’s decision ignores reality. Brookfield’s four dams on the Kennebec are pushing Atlantic salmon to the brink of extinction and blocking restoration of other sea-run fish critical to the health of the Gulf of Maine.
“It is disturbing that NOAA appears to be disregarding science and blindly trusting Brookfield with the future of Atlantic salmon and other species that depend on a healthy river. Removal of these dams provides the best chance to prevent Atlantic salmon from becoming extinct, while also continuing the restoration of a vibrant, healthy Kennebec River.
“Brookfield’s dams continue to kill and harm endangered Atlantic salmon in clear violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. It is NOAA’s job to hold Brookfield accountable and not to coddle this massive global conglomerate.”
Despite pleas from the Kennebec Coalition and Conservation Law Foundation, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and others, Brookfield has harmed sea-run fish populations for the past decade by failing to provide effective fish passage. The company has also funded an aggressive political and public relations campaign to distract from its dismal record of fish passage failures.
In September 2021, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Rivers, and Natural Resources Council of Maine sued Brookfield in federal court for repeatedly violating the Endangered Species Act. Brookfield’s federal permit to kill and injure salmon, and to hinder their migration, expired in December 2019. Since then, Brookfield has operated its dams in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Additional background on the Kennebec River and Atlantic salmon:
The Kennebec Coalition consists of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Rivers, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter. Along with the Conservation Law Foundation, the Coalition works together to advocate for the restoration of a healthy Kennebec River.