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The last wild populations of Atlantic salmon in the United States are found in Maine’s rivers, and groups say four hydroelectric dams on the Kennebec River need to be removed to help protect them. (Kevin/Adobe Stock)

 By Lily Bohlke 

May 18, 2021

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine conservationists say four dams on the Kennebec River are the biggest threat to Atlantic salmon populations, and groups intend to sue to get them removed.

Brookfield Renewable Partners is an international energy company that owns four dams on the Kennebec River between Waterville and Skowhegan.

Nick Bennett, staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, noted one of the best spawning habitats for Atlantic salmon is in the Sandy River, a tributary above Brookfield’s dams. Atlantic salmon are known as “sea-run” fish, they spawn in fresh water but spend much of their lives in salt water.

He said the dams pose an often fatal hazard for the fishes’ path to the ocean.

“They really need to be removed if we want to have any chance of restoring Atlantic salmon and the other species of sea-run fish that are necessary for them to be restored like river herring, shad and eels,” Bennett asserted.

Groups claim the dams violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Rivers and the Natural Resources Council of Maine have given the required 60-day notice to sue companies under the ESA.

Bennett emphasized when it comes to restoring the species, groups are laser focused on the dams. He pointed out historically, the Kennebec River has been the largest Atlantic salmon run of any river in the U.S.

“These four dams block Atlantic salmon, both from getting up to the Sandy River to spawn, and from getting out of the Sandy River to head back to the ocean to grow into adults,” Bennett explained.

Last July, the federal government rejected a Species Protection Plan proposed by Brookfield, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service have recommended the removal of one of the dams.

The company shut down three of its four dams for salmon migration earlier this month, with operations set to resume May 31.

References:  Endangered Species Act 12/28/1973
Lawsuit 60-day notice Natural Resources Council of Maine 05/12/2021
FERC rejects Brookfield plan Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 07/13/2020