Captains group backs Penobscot Restoration Project

Posted May 24, 2009, at 8:06 p.m.

On May 7, I attended one of three meetings that the Department of Marine Resources set up to explain the state plan for restoring diadromous fish to the Penobscot River. While the meeting was technically about the state plan with or without the actual removal and or bypass of the river dams, it really goes hand in hand with the Penobscot River Trust and its ambitious plan. At the Brewer meeting we listened to an excellent presentation by the state and then followed with an hour or so of public comment. I was disheartened not to see any members of the media present. There were many fine and varied comments that should have been made public.

I’m a Registered Maine Guide and Coast Guard licensed captain. I am the owner of Eggemoggin Guide Service located in Sedgwick. Also, I am on the board of directors and an officer of the Maine Association of Charter Captains, a group of approximately 70 captains up and down the coast. We have members that captain fishing charter boats, sightseeing boats, lighthouse tours, wildlife charters, kayak trips and more.

The Maine Charter Captains Association fully endorses and supports the Penobscot Restoration Project. We are very pleased to be associated with such a worthy project. We feel that the removal and bypassing of these dams is vital for the economy of the region and the health of the Penobscot watershed. We believe that increased fishing opportunities will bring more anglers to the region. This will help bring new tourism dollars into the state and benefit us all.

There are going to be enormous benefits both upstream in freshwater and downstream out in the bay. With the changes coming in and around the Penobscot watershed, my charter business stands to directly benefit. More fish to catch equals more anglers on my boat, not to mention the associated items anglers will need to buy when they are here on a fishing trip. Things like lodging, bait, tackle, food and gas can only help local businesses.

I foresee in just a very short time runs of alewives, shad and herring that will number in the millions of fish. That huge forage base will attract stripers, cod, haddock, halibut, hake and others. The Penobscot Bay area used to hold enormous runs of these fish and I firmly believe it will again.

While the juvenile fish grow upstream there will be a tremendous increase in the available forage for an already world-class bass fishery. After a year or two of feeding on all those new baitfish, five-pound or better smallmouth will start showing up.

I have guided many angling parties from Old Town to the Howland Dam for more than 10 years and fished it for 20. After thousands of caught and released bass we have yet to catch a legitimate five-pound smallmouth; 18 to 20 inches is a trophy on the Penobscot. While that is a fine fish in any angler’s book, I will be thrilled to tell a potential client they have a chance at the fish of a lifetime on the Penobscot. When all those baby river herring grow large enough, they will migrate out of the river in the fall again to give predators an immense new food source.

It’s a fact that there are only a handful of watersheds on the Atlantic coast that can support striped bass spawning. It is my belief that the Penobscot is one of them. If you take a huge watershed like this and allow stripers free access, we soon will have, in my opinion, a native population of fish that will add to the general migrating population of stripers while at the same time give us some year-round resident fish.

I have recently received statistics from the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey taken from the last three years that show a serious decline in the landing of stripers from nine East Coast states. Only two of them show an increase; the rest show declines of up to 85 percent. Maine’s three-year landings are down 83 percent, New Hampshire is down 85 percent, Massachusetts is down 56 percent and the list goes on. There are many reasons for the decline, but imagine how much it would help if we had a river spawning thousands of stripers right here, and then supplying many thousands of fish to the total amount of stripers that migrate along the East Coast.

Let us hope that this plan all comes to fruition. To witness the rebirth of this historic watershed is such an important issue even in these grave economic times. We all need to come together and support this to make it happen. Our future generations deserve it. This is my wish and hope. It should be all of yours.

Pete Douvarjo of Sedgwick is the owner of Eggemoggin Guide Service.

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