I have been a fishing guide on the Kennebec River for decades. I have lived in the watershed just as long and work for a company in Augusta.

I am also a board member of the Maine Wilderness Guides Organization (MWGO). MWGO consists of over 90 registered Maine guides, sporting camp and lodge owners, and their supporters. Our mission is to provide a unified voice for the profession of wilderness guiding while maintaining the highest professional, educational, and stewardship standards for the conservation of remote woods and waters. We are dedicated to the protection of habitat and natural resources in the areas we guide in for our livelihoods, our clients, the fish and game we pursue, and for future generations.

The Kennebec was once the most productive river in Maine for sea-run fish, like river herring, American shad and Atlantic salmon. The river below Waterville is once again very productive because of the removal of the Edwards and Fort Halifax dams. Restoration has stalled at Waterville because of Brookfield’s dams, which lack effective fish passage, both upstream and downstream.

I am most concerned about the first four dams on the river and believe they are not worth the harm they cause to the Kennebec and the entire Gulf of Maine. They generate a small amount of power but do a great deal of damage. That is because they block access to so much of the historic spawning and rearing habitat for sea-run fish, such as critically endangered Atlantic salmon, alewives, blueback herring (similar to alewives), American shad, and American eel. Sea-run fish are very important economic resources: alewives and bluebacks for the lobster industry,

American eel as food, and American shad as both food and excellent sportfish. They are also very important ecological resources for the whole Gulf of Maine and are prey for everything that eats fish, from eagles to whales to halibut. Dams have reduced the numbers of these fish dramatically.

Atlantic salmon are on the brink of extinction in the U.S. The Kennebec has outstanding spawning and rearing habitat for salmon in its tributaries upstream from Skowhegan, especially in the Sandy River. However, because of Brookfield’s four dams Atlantic salmon can’t swim to the Sandy and must pass down river, either through the turbines, or spill over the dams, resulting in high mortality levels. The few salmon that make it into the fish trap at the first dam on the river, the Lockwood Dam in Waterville, go into trucks up to the Sandy. The Lockwood fish lift doesn’t work well for shad either. A good shad fisherman can catch more shad in a day than the Lockwood fish lift passes in an entire year. There are plenty of shad below the dam, but


Brookfield’s fish lift doesn’t work for them. This year, Lockwood has passed only five American shad.

It’s not possible to restore Atlantic salmon without restoring all of the sea-run fish species that also used to live in the Kennebec. Salmon migrations are timed to occur when these other fish  are moving as well so that predators are most likely to eat shad or herring rather than salmon. Brookfield’s proposals to use fish lifts, like the one that doesn’t work at the Lockwood Dam, won’t pass enough salmon to restore a self-sustaining population, and they won’t restore nearly enough of the other native sea-run fish species either.

One of the reasons these systems are so ineffective is that they don’t even run all of the time. When the water temperature gets too warm, Brookfield shuts down the fish lift at Lockwood (and would have to at all of its other Kennebec dams as well if they have fish lifts in the future as well). This causes the stress that salmon experience in a fish lift even at lower temperatures to become potentially lethal. Salmon and other species need to be able to move to escape predators and to find cool water. They can’t do this when Brookfield shuts down its fish lifts.

As a fishing guide, I know that the river below the Lockwood Dam in Waterville is a great place to chase all kinds of fish. This is not true above the dam. Brookfield’s dams do too much damage to what should be a thriving river.

The Kennebec and its fish belong to all Mainers, not just to Brookfield. It’s time for Brookfield to negotiate a deal to remove its four lower Kennebec dams.

Sean McCormick is a guide on the Kennebec River.

Comments are no longer available on this story