Salmon Passage

The Brookfield Renewable hydroelectric facility stands at the Milford Dam on the Penobscot River in Milford, in January 2019. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

A coalition of environmental groups said Monday it is withdrawing a lawsuit against a renewable energy giant that it has accused of jeopardizing the last remaining wild Atlantic salmon in the U.S.

The groups sued Brookfield Renewable, claiming the company’s dams are killing salmon on the Kennebec River. Atlantic salmon only return to a handful of U.S. rivers, all in Maine, and they are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The conservationists were dealt a setback last month when the federal government ruled that salmon can coexist with hydroelectric dams on the Kennebec, as long as upgrades are eventually made to allow salmon to pass through the dams more easily. They said Monday the federal government’s recent ruling in Brookfield’s favor “undermined the premise of our lawsuit” and they had little choice but to withdraw it. The groups previously claimed Brookfield’s dams violated the Endangered Species Act.

The conservation groups say they can still shut down the dams by focusing on upcoming federal relicensing applications by Brookfield Renewable.

“We can accept nothing less than a solution that will save Atlantic salmon from extinction and restore other sea-run fish that cannot reach their spawning habitat,” the groups said in a statement.

The groups involved in the lawsuit were Atlantic Salmon Federation, Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Rivers and Natural Resources Council of Maine. Conservation groups have long advocated for removing dams from Maine rivers to aid salmon spawning.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said it plans to oversee a monitoring program to make sure the Kennebec River dams allow more fish to pass through.

This withdrawal of the lawsuit makes sense in light of the federal government’s finding that the salmon and dams can coexist, said David Heidrich, a spokesperson for Brookfield.

The government’s finding “confirmed that the four hydroelectric projects could continue to operate without jeopardizing the survival and recovery of Atlantic salmon and Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon,” Heidrich said.

The company is seeking to relicense one of its dams and amend the licenses for three others.

Wild Atlantic salmon populations in U.S. rivers have plummeted because of overfishing and habitat loss. The fish have also long grown in aquaculture farms off the coasts of Maine and Washington state, though some of that fish farming has been curtailed due to concerns about disease and environmental degradation that could harm wild populations.

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