It’s been 15 years, and environmentalist and fisheries advocates still sugar-coat the logic behind demolishing the Edwards Dam in Augusta. Without the manmade barrier, they say the lower Kennebec River from Waterville to Augusta is “looking better and getting healthier.”

Most folks behind the removal of the Edwards claim it as a great victory. I see it as a tragic loss for future generations. For certain, taking out the dam allowed the continued migration of sea-run fish species to spawn an additional 18 miles upstream. Environmental groups and fishery advocates, such as Trout Unlimited, want you to believe that sea-run fish such as striped bass, alewives, and a very few Atlantic salmon are the only “preferred” fish species to migrate upstream.

That’s simply not true.

Predator fish such as northern pike, white catfish, carp, lamprey eel, smallmouth bass and black crappie now inhabit the Kennebec River in Waterville. These exotic fish also infest the Sebasticook River, between Winslow and Benton. It’s now a plague.

The number of tributaries that flow into the Kennebec River from Waterville south is staggering. State fishery biologists fear the worse. Exotic fish species can now migrate to other waters. It’s common for anglers to catch these predators from Waterville south into Merrymeeting Bay.

White catfish up to 20 inches long and weighing up to 4 pounds have been caught below Waterville’s Ticonic Bay. Northern pike and carp up to 15 pounds also have been caught.

Information provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources states that white catfish feed on fish eggs. They also devour small fish, aquatic insects, small crustaceans and aquatic plants. It gets worse. Other predator bullheads such as blue and channel catfish can weigh as much as 100 pounds. Their migration often follows white catfish.

The invasive carp are bottom feeders. They suck up mud and spit out what they don’t consume. Fish eggs and aquatic plants are their primary foods. When feeding, carp bury other fish nests with mud and stilt. A female adult carp can lay as many as 300,000 eggs in a single spawn.

On the lower Kennebec, winter and spring smelt catches have declined dramatically and commercial smelt camp operators call the problem “epidemic.”

This past spring, the Department of Marine Resources closed the Kennebec River to sea-run smelt fishing.

Removing the Edwards Dam and Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow have opened a can of worms.

In 1983, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife introduced a fish stocking program that would prevail for more than a decade. Then, the fisheries department stocked the original impoundment between Fairfield, Waterville and Sidney with several hundred thousand brown trout and thousands of brook and rainbow trout and landlocked salmon. The stocking program established a world-class fishery.

Since removing Edwards Dam, fisheries biologists claim striped bass preyed on the trout and salmon juveniles. The fisheries department suspended the stocking program in 2013. The trout and salmon fishery has never recovered.

With an ongoing campaign to prevent so-called “bucket biologists” from stocking exotic fish or native bait fish into area lakes and ponds, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has yet to address the Kennebec’s new predator fish migration.

It’s probably safe to say that there is no conclusion to the effect. The DIF&W has no remedy about how to cure this once-predicted problem.

Current fishing regulations protect these exotic fish species from being targeted by anglers. Portions of the lower Kennebec fall under artificial-lure-only restrictions. A new general fishing ruling, without bag limits, would allow anglers to catch white catfish and carp on bait.

Officials are now considering the addition of fish passages or removal of the five remaining dams located along the outlet of China Lake in North and East Vassalboro. Proponents say this will allow sea-run alewives to move upstream into China Lake. The outlet stream flows directly into the Sebasticook River.

The restoration of sea-run fish species has always been an important issue. But rather than removing dams, the use of portable or permanent fish ladders have worked well in many other states, including Alaska. Fish ladders with built-in fish traps are cost effective and much easier for fisheries personnel to monitor and remove unwanted fish species.

The demolition of the Edwards and Fort Halifax dams has already proved that dam removal doesn’t work.

Dwayne M. Rioux lives in Winslow and is the former Central Maine Newspapers “Maine Lore” outdoors writer. He is a master Maine Guide and former media spokesman for the Maine Ice Anglers Association.

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