OAKLAND — The head of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine said today that he’ll support removing a fish barrier between Messalonskee Lake and Messalonskee Stream a day after stating opposition to the plan.

One local environmental group, however, is still researching the proposed move.

The town of Oakland is considering a request from Essex Hydro, a Boston-based company that owns the dam on the waterway, to remove a fish screen installed in the 1940s to keep landlocked salmon from exiting the lake.

The town council will consider the request during its meeting, 6 p.m. Wednesday at the town office.

If the town raises no objection, Essex Vice President Andrew Locke said the company would remove three of about 20 sections of screen during the daytime for eight to 10 weeks during the fall so workers won’t have to rake accumulated leaves off of it every day.

The grates would be replaced each evening, Locke said, so eels — most active at night — wouldn’t get through the barrier and be hurt by downstream turbines.

David Trahan, executive director of the sportsman’s alliance, said Monday that he was concerned about removing the screen because it could allow invasive plant and fish species out of the lake and into the stream.

But today, Trahan said after consulting with Andrea Erskine, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, he is convinced the screen serves no purpose.

“I’ll defer to the biologists,” he said.

Jason Seiders, a biologist with the department, said the screen prevents adult fish from leaving the lake.

However, he said it doesn’t have a mesh fine enough to prevent juvenile invasive fish, such as northern pike, from slipping through. For that reason, he said, the screen has little or no impact on the spread of invasives.

Trahan said his initial objections were fueled by caution about anything that could possibly promote the spread of invasive species.

“Being vigilant and erring on the side of caution is always good with invasive species,” he said. “I’m not ashamed to be cautious.”

The Town Council has asked two local environmental organizations for input, but those groups have not endorsed the screen removal.

The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance supports of the opinion of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department, which is not opposed to the move, said Charles Baeder, executive director of the alliance.

Friends of Messalonskee, the other group, is still gathering information, according to Ned Hammond, a member scheduled to present to the council at the meeting.

While Hammond agreed the screen isn’t preventing the spread of invasive species, he said he had some concerns he was still researching today, including the impact of exposing fish to dangers of the turbines below the waterway.

“The jury is still out,” Hammond said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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