Bringing the Fish Back

On February 23, 2021, CREA hosted Josh Royte, Senior Scientist with The Nature Conservancy, and Landis Hudson, Executive Director of Maine Rivers, for a virtual presentation on river restoration. You can watch the presentation here, (Note: there is a 3 minute pause from the 15 to 18 minute mark caused by a technology glitch, which you can fast forward past) but here are a few highlights to whet your appetite:

  • Connected natural systems are healthier than isolated systems. They connect elements of the natural world (forests, rivers, lakes, etc.) and they connect people.
  • Fisheries have declined tremendously since records were first kept. Unfortunately, the study of fisheries has suffered from ‘shifting baseline syndrome,’ meaning each generation of researchers starts with a lower sense of what the baseline fishery is. Decline has been precipitous when compared to data on fishing stocks from the early 1800s.
  • When dams were removed from the Penobscot River, the number of herring in the river went from hundreds to millions, with associated benefits to the birds and other creatures that feed on them.
  • Smaller barriers, such as poorly designed or located culverts and bridges, are significant barriers on smaller streams. The Nature Conservancy surveyed 27,000 such barriers and is using this information with habitat data to prioritize where to focus fish restoration projects.
  • From Sea to Source 2.0 is a resource on how to meet challenges to restoration of fish migration, available as a free download here.
  • Maine has over 1,000 dams, most of which are relics of past eras. Few are productive (i.e. energy-generating). Because many fish species need to move from salt to fresh water to reproduce, dams reduce the vitality of Maine’s rivers and the Gulf of Maine.
  • The alewife population in the Kennebec River has exploded since the Edwards dam was removed in Augusta 21 years ago. See Maine Rivers’ Alewife Trail Map for information about alewives and where/when to see them.
  • Most fish passages don’t work very well but they remain the only option in some cases.
  • The work of removing barriers to fish migration is slow and usually involves many partners, but the benefits come quickly as water quality improves, fish populations increase, and species that feed on those fish rebound.
  • River and fish restoration have many economic, social, and cultural benefits also, in the form of alewive and herring harvests, restoration of traditional foods for the Penobscot Nation, new recreational opportunities and more.