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Environment and Outdoors

Conservation group says dam operations caused the death of thousands of alewives in Ellsworth

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Downeast Salmon Federation
The Downeast Salmon Federation released videos on Wednesday June 15 showing what it says are thousands of dead adult river herring, or alewives, along the water and banks immediately downstream of the Ellsworth Dam, which is operated by Brookfield Renewable.

A conservation group says that the operations of a dam along the Union River in downtown Ellsworth caused the death of thousands of fish earlier this month.

The Downeast Salmon Federation released videos on Wednesday showing what it says are thousands of dead adult river herring, or alewives, along the water and banks immediately downstream of the Ellsworth Dam, which is operated by Brookfield Renewable. Brett Ciccotelli, the restoration and engagement coordinator with the federation, blames this kill on fish likely finding their way through broken wooden flashboards on top of the dam, which have since been repaired.

"This year, they found this gap on the flashboards, went over the gap, or through the gap, and smashed on to these ledges below," Ciccotelli said. "And it looks like a lot of these fish were killed from the impact." But he says it's just the latest fish kill caused by the operation, and his group would like owner Brookfield Renewable to do everything it can to protect the alewives.

"And really, we should be, collectively, thinking about what it is here that stops these kinds of events. And protects this river," he said.

In a statement, Brookfield Renewable spokesperson David Heidrich said that operator Black Bear Hydro Partners has "implemented voluntary measures" to minimize impacts on fish runs, and that federal regulators have never found the company to be "in violation of its license."

He also noted that the alewife run this year "exceeded all expectations" and "while mortalities are always unfortunate, we have taken measures appropriate to our current license to reduce them, and the alewives that are in the river now are slated for harvest rather than passage."

Brookfield is currently in the midst of the federal relicensing process for the dams, and two Maine agencies have decided in recent years to deny water quality certification for two of its dams on the Union River.