Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. My name is Nick Bennett, and I am the Staff Scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s largest environmental advocacy group with more than 20,000 members and supporters. I am testifying in support of LD 817.
As a result of the removal of two dams on the Penobscot and the installation of innovative fish passage at two other dams, the restoration of sea-run fish to the lower Penobscot has proceeded far more rapidly than anticipated. The large numbers of sea-run fish, especially river herring (blueback herring and alewife) and shad, passing through the fish lift at the Milford Dam illustrate this success. In 2018, nearly 4000 shad and more than 2 million river herring passed Milford. Anglers are now fishing for shad in the Penobscot in places they have not been able to for nearly two centuries.
LD 817 would require a study to examine the further obstacles to sea-run fish and the best means to help them get beyond these obstacles. The study would also look at water quality and habitat conditions affecting fisheries restoration. A holistic study by the key state agencies, federal agencies, and the Penobscot Indian Nation is particularly timely given how rapidly sea-run fish have returned to the Penobscot. Now is the time to move forward with the most effective additional steps to improve fish passage and sea-run fish habitat, and this study should help with that.
NRCM also supports the provision in this bill that would prevent rebuilding dams below the Milford Dam.
The economic importance of sea-run fish in Maine is clear. Maine scientists have linked the disappearance of coastal cod stocks to the dramatic decline in the number of river herring compared to historic levels. River herring spend their lives at sea but swim up rivers to spawn in the spring. Large numbers of cod used to follow these fish close to shore, where they could be caught more easily, supplying the Maine fishing industry with a lucrative catch. River herring are also the preferred spring bait for Maine’s lobster industry. They are particularly important now because of Atlantic herring shortages.
Although NRCM supports LD 817, it is not a replacement for the critical water quality upgrades in the Penobscot watershed in the Department’s reclassification package, which this Committee will hold hearings on later this session.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to take any questions.
 See, for example, P.19 in Ted Ames. 2004. Atlantic Cod Stock Structure in the Gulf of Maine. Fisheries Research. 29(1) 10-28. Accessed at https://www.coastalfisheries.org/wp-content/uploads/ames_cod_paper.pdf