Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reviving a river: From the field

Yesterday, we celebrated the first step to removing the huge Great Works Dam on the Penobscot River. Today, you’ll hear from the head of our Maine field office, Laury Zicari. This office has done a tremendous amount of work to ensure that measures are taken to avoid, minimize, or compensate for the impacts on fish and wildlife from dams along the Penobscot.

Greetings from the Great State of Maine and the Maine Field Office!

I have worked in Ecological Services for about 22 years, transferring to Maine last year. This a great place to do the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Any map of Maine will show you the long history connecting our state with fish. You'll see many marvelous fish-related names derived from the language of the Native Americans that lived here long before European settlers arrived:

  • Cobbosseecontee – Abenaki for “plenty of sturgeon” 
  • Kenduskeag - Abenaki for “eel place or eel weir place” 
  • Passagassawakeag – Malecite for “place for spearing sturgeon by torchlight”
  • Passamaquoddy – Abenaki or Micmac for “plenty of pollock jumping”
  • Wassookeag – Abenaki for “shining fish place”
  • Alamoosook Anglicized Malacite for "at the fish spawning place”
  • Mattamiscontis – Abenaki for “alewife stream”
  • Mattawamkeag – Abenaki for “fishing place beyond gravel bar”
  • Androscoggin – Abenaki for “place where fish are cured”
  • Medddybemps – Passamaquoddy-Abenaki for “plenty of alewives”
(From Brian McCauley's "The Names of Maine – How Maine Places got their names and What They Mean," 2004)

….You get the picture, and a hint at how important migratory fish must have been to the first inhabitants of Maine.

Unfortunately, the above fish--alewives, shad, salmon and sturgeon--are no longer “plenty” in most streams and rivers in Maine. Access to their spawning grounds had been blocked for over a century by barriers, including dams to raise lake levels for recreation, dams constructed to produce power for mills, and later, dams to generate electricity, and road-stream crossings that impede passage by being too small or hung in the air. 

Atlantic salmon numbers plummeted too, and federal and Maine state scientists hypothesize that the decline in all migratory fish (fish that spend part of their life cycle in the ocean, and are spawned and reared in freshwater) is caused by a combination of the loss of access to spawning and rearing habitat coupled with poor marine survival for decades. 

One ES program in particular is directed and devoted to helping provide a remedy – the conservation planning assistance (CPA) program. CPA biologists ensure that measures are taken to avoid, minimize or compensate for federally funded, authorized or constructed project impacts on fish and wildlife. 

Our office also helps restore alewives to a lake in the Penobscot River and supports work
reconnecting sections of stream habitat for migrating and rearing of Atlantic salmon.
Credit: Wende Mahaney/USFWS

Staff from the Maine Field Office, along with our fishway engineers stationed in Hadley, Mass., and colleagues from the Penobscot Indian Nation, Maine Department of Marine Fisheries, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, provide technical assistance to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and hydropower generation companies, the state and other federal agencies to develop ways to get those migratory fish up, over, around and through barriers to their migratory movements. 

This summer we'll be watching in excitement at the continued dismantling of Great Works Dam, the first of the major changes brought about by the Lower Penobscot Settlement with FERC. 

Over the next few years, we look forward to sitting on the banks of the Medddybemps and seeing “plenty of alewives” again.

Follow the action here, at the Penobscot River Restoration Trust website and at the state agency website, which updates information about sea runs. 

This is part of a series on fish passage. Read the other blog posts here.

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