Researching a route to economic and ecological recovery | News

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Researching a route to economic and ecological recovery

BRUNSWICK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Historically, tens of thousands of American Shad traveled up the Androscoggin River to spawn, but despite a fishway on the Brunswick Hydroelectric Dam designed to help the fish pass by, the dam has prevented them from reaching miles of spawning habitat.

"It is definitely an impediment," stated John Lichter, a biology and environmental studies professor at Bowdoin College.  "The ladder does not work well for shad."

Some years as many as a hundred of the fish pass through.  As of late last week, only seventeen fish had successfully made the trek this year.

"There should be, hopefully, a lot of shad that would be attracted to move upstream, but for some reason, they are not doing it," lamented Gail Wippelhauser, a scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources.  "Occasionally there is some shad that go upstream, I think in the 1990's there was like ninety or ninety-five that went up, but mostly it is either nothing or a very small handful."

To better understand why the fish don't or can't navigate the fishway, a team of researchers has installed a flow inducer near the base of the dam.  The giant box is outfitted with two high-pressure nozzles that create currents in an attempt to attract the fish to the fish ladder's entrance.

"These fish swim for miles and miles and miles to come back to spawn in the Androscoggin River, and it is a big river - third largest in the state of Maine - and they have got to find literally a little slot in a concrete wall," explained Neil Ward, program director for the Androscoggin River Alliance.

Ward says they have captured video of thousands of shad swimming just below the dam, evidence he says that the fish are there and looking to go upstream to spawn, but cannot make it over the dam.

He hopes by studying the issue, they can convince the dam's owners to install a fish lift that will help boost the shad populations by giving them access to traditional spawning grounds.

Professor Lichter says increasing the numbers of fish in the Androscoggin could have an impact on depleted ground fish in the Gulf of Maine.

"Our project is looking at ecological and economic recovery of our waterways and coastal fisheries," he explained.  "Economic recovery may depend on ecological recovery."

He believes that increasing the number of young fish that develop in our inland waterways and then return to the sea could help restore valuable ground fish stocks, providing them with more food.

"There are foraging grounds for ground fish that were in near shore, and those are all gone basically," he said.

The study will continue into next year and is being conducted in partnership with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Androscoggin River Alliance, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Bowdoin College in cooperation with Brookfield Energy which owns and operates the dam.


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