December 21, 2010 3 min read

[UPDATE: Someone also passed along this nice audio podcast of ASF President Bill Taylor talking about the project]

This is the kind of news that you wish you could get all of the time. Yesterday, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust announced the purchase of three dams on the watershed to the tune of $24 million, two of which will be decommissioned and the third of which will have a fish bypass installed. If all goes according to plan the result will be the best chance to restore Atlantic Salmon in the United States, and in a region that was historically part of their natural habitat.

You can find the Atlantic Salmon Federation‘s press release here, but this is the gist:

The Penobscot Trust will remove the Veazie and Great Works dams and build a fish bypass around the Howland dam to open up nearly 1,000 miles of river habitat, long blocked by dams, to eleven species of sea-run fish, such as endangered Atlantic salmon, sturgeon and river herring. When the project is complete, hydropower generation will be maintained at the same levels as before the project began, and may even increase.

These kinds of partnerships between industry, conservation groups, and government seldom seem to live up to the billing, and while I don’t know what went on behind the scenes here, all indications point to an unusual and highly effective collaboration. As far as I can tell this move simply made sense all around which is probably why it got done.

(credit: Atlantic Salmon Federation)

The Veazie Dam — One of Two That Will be Decommissioned to Improve the Penobscot Watershed (credit: Tom Moffatt/Atlantic Salmon Federation)

In addition to the general satisfaction of seeing conservation efforts produce results, I also have to admit a special interest in the Penobscot and to how this might all unfold.

You see over the years I’ve watched with a mix of hope and frustration the efforts on my own watershed, the Connecticut River, to reintroduce a self-sustaining salmon population. Those who have labored on this project have been nothing short of heroic, but given the sheer number of obstacles that have been thrown in their way and the general insistence upon instant results, it’s sometimes easy to feel a little dispirited at the pace of restoration. And so we’ve often looked north to Maine — where the prospects are a little rosier — in the hopes that success there will beget success elsewhere and demonstrate that river restoration isn’t just some kind of wishy-washy pipedream.

Every year on my trip up to Canada when I pass through Bangor, ME and drive over the Penobscot bridge I think about the possibility of having Atlantic salmon thriving so close to home. Many arguments can be made as to why salmon matter – cultural, economic, etc. — but those issues often seem a whole lot less academic to those of us who have fished for them over the years and have developed such a strong attachment to what is surely one of the most remarkable species on the planet.

Anyway, this old rodmaker knows better than to wax too philosophical about all of this, but suffice to say that today was a good day for Atlantic Salmon. I think that makes it a pretty good day for the rest of us too.


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