SANGERVILLE, Maine — A proposed bill to help safeguard Piscataquis County waters from invasive species in the wake of a collaborative effort to restore sea-run fish to the Penobscot River will be aired at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Room 206 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta.
If adopted, LD 134, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would prohibit fishways or a fish bypass from being installed at dams on the outlet of Sebec Lake and on the Sebec River in Milo.
The Penobscot River Restoration Trust — a collaboration among the Penobscot Indian Nation, hydropower companies, state and federal agencies, and conservation groups — is working to restore species of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River.
The trust owns the Veazie and Great Works dams, which will be removed, and the Howland dam, where a fish bypass is proposed. The three projects, when completed, would allow a variety of fish species to reach waters they couldn’t reach before.
That worries Davis and others. Davis said pike already have been introduced illegally into Pushaw Pond, and with the proposed fish bypass, the pike could find their way up to Howland and spread to Piscataquis County waters.
“We never should have allowed this to happen,” Davis said Monday of the Howland dam project. “The last thing we want is northern pike in Sebec Lake. There won’t be anything else there.”
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Marine Resources, both involved in the trust, have a memorandum of understanding that all barriers now in place from Howland and on the main stem of the Penobscot River at West Enfield and above will remain in place.
The memorandum is only a piece of paper, Davis said, that could be changed without public participation or terminated several years from now when the trust begins restoring alewives to the Penobscot River.
LD 134 would force the trust or anyone else who wanted to create a fish bypass or fishway in Sebec or Milo to make their case before the Legislature. “It would require a public hearing and guaranteed public involvement,” Davis said.
Laura Rose Day, executive director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, said Monday the two state agencies are working together to apply best management practices to deal with invasive species. The agencies have agreed to ensure that the current blockages are maintained at least in the short term and then would continue to cooperate on what should happen in the future, she said.
Pat Keliher, acting deputy commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, said Monday his department supports Davis’ bill.
“We support his goal and in fact, IF&W and DMR — because of the invasive pike that are in that system — had already moved forward and created a memorandum of understanding to keep barriers in place at both of the dams that he’s named within his bill.”
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Mainer also supports the bill. “We’re not opposed to the Penobscot River restoration project as a whole, but we want to make sure they’re doing it carefully,” Matt Dunlap, interim executive director, said Monday. “I think everybody shares the same goal. We want to enhance the fisheries habitat as best we can.”
The Piscataquis County commissioners, who in July questioned the wisdom of approving a bypass designed to allow all fish species passage to the entire Piscataquis River watershed, also support the bill.
Tom Lizotte, chairman of the county commissioners, pointed out in a letter to the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee that anglers after native fish contribute greatly to the Piscataquis County economy.
Davis said U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe also is working on behalf of anglers to find federal funds for a sorting facility at the Howland dam. The facility would allow the invasive species to be removed.
“If these fish get to Milo and a couple of good ol’ boys get to drinking and go down and catch two or three of them and they dump them into Sebec Lake, those things can go all the way to Wilson Dam,” Davis said. “How long would it be before they get into Wilson Pond, which runs right directly into Moosehead?”