Before the dams between Waterville and Skowhegan were added to the Kennebec River, sea-run fish freely moved between their native spawning habitats in the Sandy River and the ocean. Each year 100,000 to 200,000 Atlantic salmon made it to the ocean successfully. Now four dams stand between the nearly-extinct fish and their spawning ground, bringing their numbers down to 50. Yes, five-zero.

If fish were dollars, we’d call this a market crash, and investors would be devastated, enraged, and motivated into action for wealth reclamation. Why not think of the Atlantic salmon with the same capitalistic viewpoint that brought on their demise? Can we bail out the salmon before they’re completely bankrupt, I mean, extinct? We must remove the four archaic dams preventing them from making it upstream to the Sandy River, a place so sacred to their existence they cannot live without access to it.

Sea-run salmon are considered sacred to the Abanaki people on the Sandy River. They are integral to their creation story, their ancestors having sustained on salmon for thousands of years. We owe it to the indigenous people of Maine to return this native food staple to their diet.

The average Atlantic salmon grows to be 8-12 pounds, meaning one fish could feed eight to 12 people. If we were to remove the dams and regrow this fishery in the Gulf of Maine to its full potential as the largest in the world, it could be a huge boon to Maine’s economy, not just its native population.

Removing the dams would also bolster populations of other sea-run fish species including alewives, shad, blueback herring, American eel and more. We would be wise to revisit native ways of respecting the animals that chose us and waterways that we are lucky enough to benefit from.

 

Ari O’Neill

Litchfield

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