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MILFORD, Maine — In what is being described as an annual, well-monitored event, crews at the Brookfield Renewable’s Milford Dam are paying particular attention to the pools below the dam so that they can make sure endangered Atlantic salmon do not become stranded in areas that could prove hazardous to their health.
Andy Davis, director of communications for Brookfield, explained that during the annual installation of flash boards on the dam, crews do not seal up the boards with caulking immediately so that salmon and other fish don’t get stranded in rapidly decreasing water levels on the downstream side.
Instead, crews allow some water to flow between the boards, so that any salmon who linger too long in their respective pools won’t end up in an oxygen-free environment.
About 20 fish were temporarily stranded last year, but were rescued by crews. The flash boards, or “hinge boards” were installed recently, and some fish have had to be redirected toward a fishway on the dam or netted and lifted into the head pond since that installation.
“This is a totally normalized stranding of Atlantic salmon in some pools that are on the north side of the dam,” Davis said. “It does happen when spring flows are high and we start to put flash boards up. Fish get in the water in that area and get stranded. What we do is we work with federal agencies, [Department of Environmental Protection] as well as [National Marine Fisheries Service], and we go through a process of allowing a certain amount of water in there to keep the salmon healthy, as they get pushed back out into moving water.”
Initial reports to the BDN indicated that several dozen Atlantic salmon had become stranded and died. That is not the case, according to Davis.
“No fatalities. Obviously, as you know, Atlantic salmon fatalities are a really, really big deal,” Davis said. “So, right now, that would be on everyone’s radar. But no fatalities. We’re just currently working through moving them safely where they need to be.”
Davis said Brookfield is working with federal partners to find a permanent solution for the recurring situation.
“Everyone’s kind of working together on what the best, best solution is,” Davis said.
Jeff Nichols, communication for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said five DMR staffers have been monitoring the situation at the dam and are ready to intervene if needed.
“[A DMR employee] said there were about a dozen or so [salmon] in a deep hole that’s about 10 to 15 feet deep, that are being monitored right now by Brookfield staff,” Nichols said. “The fish are in good condition, they’re not experiencing stress at this point.”
Nichols said should water temperature rise above 25 Celsius, the fish would begin to experience stress, and DMR staff members would make an effort to extract the fish.
“If they’re still in there and the [water level] is getting low, or the temperature is getting high, the fish will be moved out of there,” Nichols said.
Atlantic salmon are listed as “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act in all Maine rivers. As of Sunday, 240 salmon had been counted at the Miflord Dam fishway this year.