The Millinocket Fin & Feather Club loves salmon, hates pike.
That’s why the group opposes a project that it otherwise might advocate — the purchase and eventual decommissioning of three Penobscot River energy-producing dams for $25 million as part of a historic agreement to restore upstream passage for sea-run fish, officials said Thursday.
In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, club President Ray Campbell Jr. explained that the group would support the Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s efforts to increase Atlantic salmon and wild brook trout, but not if it means also providing “access for some highly destructive invasive species, such as north-ern pike.”
The group fears that removing the Veazie and Great Works dams and installing a fish bypass at the Howland dam, as the trust plans, “would introduce invasive species into the pristine Piscataquis River that were never there, plus [would give] pike that are already in the Penobscot River below these dams, access into the Pis-cataquis River,” Campbell wrote.
“The pike will not only destroy the fishery in the Piscataquis, but recent studies show that they in all probability will gain access from the East Branch of the Pleasant River [which flows into the Piscataquis] into Upper Jo-Mary Lake and from there into the West Branch of the Penobscot,” he added. “This will essentially destroy the entire fishery downstream of Ripogenus Dam.”
The fishing offered in the Katahdin Region is a bedrock of the tourist trade in northern Maine.
State fisheries biologists have conceded that upstream migration of pike is certainly plausible without the dams but that the scenario needs more study. They plan to study the issue later this year to determine the likelihood of the spread of pike and other species past the Howland dam.
Pike, which are voracious eaters that can grow to more than 20 pounds, already have been illegally introduced into Pushaw Lake and Pushaw Stream north of Bangor. From there it’s only a short swim to the Penobscot, home of the nation’s last sizable run of Atlantic salmon.
Laura Rose Day, executive director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, calls pike invasion unlikely.
It’s “debatable,” Day said, that the dams act as pike barriers. “What is clear is that the historic risk of pike spreading has been through [fisherman’s] buckets, not through byways. That’s been the major pattern.”
The Penobscot River Restoration Trust initially planned to install a trap-and-sort facility at the Howland dam but rejected the idea, which would have provided “a last chance” to stop destructive species getting upstream, Campbell said.
But Day said a consensus emerged that the facility was unnecessary.
Campbell said, however, that the trust insisted the trap-and-sort plan be dropped.
The trust already has raised the $25 million to buy the dams from PPL Corp. and needs to raise another $25 million to remove and bypass the impoundments. It filed its permits with FERC, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Those applications are pending.
Completion of the project is expected to reopen nearly 1,000 miles of habitat to Atlantic salmon, sturgeon, alewives and other sea-run fish once abundant in the Penobscot.
In return for selling the dams, PPL Corp. is allowed to increase power generation at six other hydroelectric facilities along the river.
BDN writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.