AUGUSTA, Maine — The Department of Marine Resources is fine-tuning a draft strategic plan for the restoration of alewives, blueback herring and shad throughout the Penobscot River drainage.
The proposed move is being considered parallel to the Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s efforts to restore diadromous species to the Penobscot River, New England’s second largest river, according to Patrick Keliher, director of sea-run fisheries and habitat at the Department of Marine Resources. Diadromous fish migrate between fresh and salt water.
A bypass channel in Howland is among the series of changes planned over time by the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, a nonprofit organization that includes the Penobscot Indian Nation and several conservation groups, including Maine Audubon and Trout Unlimited. The trust is working in collaboration with state and federal agencies and hydropower company Pennsylvania Power and Light Corp.
Other elements of the trust’s plan to restore Atlantic salmon, river herring and sturgeon, among other sea species, to the Penobscot watershed include removal of the Veazie Dam and the Great Works Dam — the first two dams on the Penobscot River — and improvement of the fish passage at the Milford Dam in Old Town.
Keliher said Wednesday that with the removal of these dams, his department saw the need to move forward with a formal multi-species fisheries management plan to help guide the fishery restoration.
The entire focus is to restore the native species to the Penobscot drainage, which includes the Piscataquis drainage, Keliher said. The fish disappeared from their natural areas when the dams were constructed, he said.
“We’re not going to put fish where they can’t get to or get out of,” Keliher said.
The plan is to stock shad fry and adult blueback herring and alewives into bodies of water where the fish have migrated historically, such as Chemo Pond, Keliher said. Presently, the department has focused on Chemo Pond located on the east side of the Penobscot River and some of the smaller, warmer ponds in the lower part of the drainage, he said. Other areas from a long list where alewives historically had access in years past include Davis Pond, Pushaw Lake, Nicatous Lake, Schoodic Lake, Ebeemee Lake, Sebec Lake, Cedar Lake, Pleasant Lake and Piper Pond.
Just how the plan would move forward and the timing of the introduction would hinge on the passage to be created at the Howland dam, according to Keliher. He cautioned, however, there is much to be done before such stocking could occur.
The draft reintroduction plan, which is now under technical review by the department, its sister agencies, including the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and key partners, is expected to be presented to the Atlantic Salmon Commission by March 12, according to Keliher. That commission consists of George LaPointe, commissioner of Marine Resources; Danny Martin, commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; and Dick Ruhlin of Brewer, member-at-large.
If the commission gives its approval, the plan will move to public scoping meetings throughout the drainage area in April and May, he said. After these public meetings, the department will make any revisions necessary and then will present it for final approval, likely in June, he explained.
The earliest the department could start stocking alewives would be May 2010, according to department officials.
Alewives, blueback herring and shad have a “very positive” effect on the ecosystem,” Keliher said. When these fish die, nutrients are released which benefit bodies of water. In addition these fish, in warmer waters, will eat zooplankton, organisms that float on water. There is a high level of algae which turns the water green when there is too much zooplankton in a body of water, according to the state official.
Keliher said alewives spawn in ponds, lakes and dead water, and blueback herring spawn in fast water. Both are filter feeders and do not eat other fish. Shad, which spawn in fresh rivers, are primarily plankton feeders.
Under the draft restoration proposal, six fish would be stocked per acre of water. If more alewives, herring or shad return and overpopulate a body of water, towns or individuals could petition the commissioner for rights to the fishery, Keliher said. The town or individual filing the petition would have to submit a sustainable harvest plan.
“Basically, as long as we’ve got enough fish passing to saturate the habitat, we know we will be able to sustain a run at the same time allowing for the harvest,” Keliher said.
Any such move, however, would be years away, according to Keliher. “This is a slow process. We have limited resources to be able to do this at the current time,” he said. If the plan is approved, the department would stock the lower parts of the watershed first to build up the populations. As the fish repopulated, they would be moved up the watershed, he said.
“It’s not like we just start putting fish in willy-nilly throughout the watershed,” Keliher said. Long before these fish are reintroduced into the Penobscot River drainage, there will be lots of public meetings to educate people about the effort, he said. “We’re talking about a 25-to-50-year process.”