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Tribe, environmental groups say Penobscot River dam remains barrier to salmon

Salmon Project Abandoned
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 photo, the Brookfield Renewable hydroelectric facility stands at the Milford Dam on the Penobscot River in Milford, Maine.

In 2014, a new fishway began helping endangered Atlantic salmon make their way past the Milford Dam on the Penobscot River so they could spawn upstream.

Six groups now say the fishway is failing to be effective and the reason is timing. The groups include the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Conservation Law Foundation, Trout Unlimited and Maine Rivers.

Daniel McCaw, the fisheries program manager for the Penobscot Nation, says when the fishway was first licensed, it was supposed to allow 96% of salmon to get past the hydro-power dam. McCaw says that standard was met, but the fish also had to find the fishway in just 48 hours.

"They're coming from the ice cold ocean and they need to get upstream into the cold water habitats as quickly as possible during the high flows of the late spring, early summer," says McCaw.

But a Maine Department of Marine Resources analysis indicates 79% of salmon failed to meet the 48-hour standard.

McCaw says extra time finding and pushing past the dam robs salmon of strength, especially since they don't usually eat during their swim upriver. McCaw says that likely has an impact on their ability to spawn.

The groups say neither the dam owner, Brookfield Renewable Partners, nor the federal government, has taken steps to improve the situation, which they say, amounts to a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Sean Mahoney, Executive Vice President of the Conservation Law Foundation, says legal action is under consideration. Brookfield did not immediately comment.