US may demand dam action to save last Atlantic salmon

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The last wild salmon live in a group of rivers in Maine and have been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 2000.

Wild Atlantic salmon swim in a hatchery in Orland, Maine. AP Photo/Michael C. York, file

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The federal government is conducting a review of four dams on a Maine river that could be a lifeline for the last wild Atlantic salmon in the United States

The last wild salmon live in a group of rivers in Maine and have been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 2000. One of the rivers is the Kennebec River, where Brookfield Renewable US has dams.

Brookfield wants to amend federal permits for four dams and receive a new 40-year operating license for one of them. This requires a review of the impacts of dams on salmon, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

The federal review could result in mitigation actions Brookfield should take to protect the salmon, NOAA officials said. The review comes as the Biden administration also considers changes to dams in other parts of the country. The administration released reports earlier this month that removing dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington may be needed to adequately restore salmon runs in the north. -western Pacific.

In Maine, Brookfield sees the review as a step toward building new fish passages on the Kennebec that will help fish migrate and spawn, company spokesman David Heidrich said. Brookfield plans to spend at least $40 million on structural changes to its projects and will incorporate changes required by the federal review, Heidrich said.

The review “is a critical regulatory approval that brings Brookfield closer to building and operating new, state-of-the-art fishways on the lower Kennebec,” he said.

The Weston Dam holds back the Kennebec River in Skowhegan, Maine on September 14, 2021. – AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

The last wild Atlantic salmon have long been the focus of conservation advocates in New England. Environmental groups have sounded the alarm that counters found fewer fish on the Penobscot River in 2021 than any year since 2016.

The fish were once plentiful in the rivers of Maine and beyond, but factors such as dams, overfishing, habitat loss, and pollution have dramatically reduced their populations. In May, Brookfield said it would use seasonal shutdown procedures for Kennebec River dams to help salmon migrate.

The best way to help the salmon population recover would be to remove the dams altogether, said Nick Bennett, a scientist with the Maine Council of Natural Resources. It would open up access to the Sandy River, a Kennebec tributary that is prime salmon habitat, he said.

“If we could get those four dams removed, the best big piece of Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing habitat, which is the Sandy River and its tributaries, would be free-swimming directly from the ocean,” Bennett said. .

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