The new Milford Dam fish lift window highlights the life returning to the watershed: five of the species we are working to restore as seen in the lift in mid-June. Atlantic salmon, American shad, blueback herring, alewife, and sea lamprey swim together as they use the lift for the first time during their migration to prime spawning and nursery habitat in the upper watershed.
While salmon, shad, and blueback herring spawn in the swift-flowing stretches of the Penobscot River and major tributaries, alewife spawn in lakes and ponds. Stocking efforts by the Maine Department of Marine Resources since 2010, natural repopulation, and removal of the Veazie (2013) and Great Works (2012) dams, contributed to the tremendous alewife run this year - well over 300,000 recorded at the Milford fish lift and Blackman Stream combined!
Restoration of alewife, shad, and blueback herring is critical to salmon restoration because when they migrate in vast numbers they provide cover - or prey buffer - for salmon smolt going out to sea. It is easy to see how the much smaller salmon smolt coming downriver can easily hide among these other fish! The American shad count at the lift is nearing 700. In contrast, while researchers documented significant numbers of shad below the Veazie Dam in the years just before dam removal, during the 35 years the Veazie trap was operating, only 16 shad were actually caught in the trap.
Adult sea lamprey only swim upriver to spawn; they are not feeding on anything during this time. They are important to salmon restoration because they use the same spawning habitat and actually help prepare the river bottom for spawning salmon by moving large rocks around to make their own nests. After spawning, the adult lampreys die, and their decomposing bodies provide a nutrient-rich environment for emerging salmon fry to grow.
With removal of the two lowermost dams on the Penobscot River, Veazie Dam in 2013 and Great Works in 2012, sea-run fish now swim freely to Old Town from the sea. The Milford fish lift, owned by Black Bear Hydro - Brookfield, is now operational, a significant upgrade resulting from the multi-party agreement to restore sea-run fisheries to the Penobscot watershed. After completion of the Howland Dam bypass, anticipated in 2015, sea-run fish will have greatly improved access to nearly 1000 miles of habitat.