Mon Panier
Running Free
Sea-run alewives, or river herring, are an important keystone species that historically supported cod and lobster fishermen, bald eagles, otters and Atlantic salmon. After the 1999 Edwards Dam removal on the Kennebec River and the 2008 Fort Halifax Dam removal on the Sebasticook River, the returning alewife population jumped from zero to an estimated 1.5 million in 2010, the largest run in the country. Unbuild it and they do come! Merrymeeting Bay, Maine. HEATHER PERRY

Running Free

Within minutes of the Edwards Dam removal in 1999, Nate Gray, a Maine Department of Marine Resources scientist, could see fish trying to get through the breach. They were shad, now able to travel up the Kennebec River for the first time in 162 years.

Prior to the Edwards Dam removal, the river herring run on the Kennebec had fallen to about 200,000 fish. In a good season. Gray’s department had to “trap and truck” the herring by pumping them out of the river into a stocking truck, and then driving them dozens of miles upstream.

The Edwards and Fort Halifax dams, built in 1837 and 1908, respectively, had long since served their purpose and were no longer economically viable.

When the Edwards Dam finally came down, followed by the Fort Halifax Dam in 2008, the fish regained lost ground. In 2011, well over three million river herring moved up the river trailed by hungry seals, great blue herons and bald eagles – for 17 miles of free river.

Nate Gray says that the river is now a “biological machine.” When you take down a dam “all this stuff comes with it,” Gray said. “When you restore a fish population the chemistry of the river changes. I could actually smell it.”

One day, Gray visited the Fort Halifax impoundment area after the dam’s removal. He walked down the river to a place he knew was an old Native American fishing village. When he got there, he felt as if he were standing in a place that was the way it was 700 years ago. While he watched the river, he counted 40 bald eagles. More bald eagles than he had ever seen.

The Edwards Dam removal was the result of a decade long effort by American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Trout Unlimited. Please support these organizations and learn more about them online.