Friday, February 4, 2011

Kennebec River Salmon, Augusta, Maine, 2005.

Grocery Store Ad for Maine Atlantic Salmon, 1930s

Until World War II it was customary for Maine families to buy a freshly caught Maine Atlantic salmon in their local grocery store and cook it with fresh peas on the Fourth of July.

This ad is from the Bangor Daily News c. 1932 from microfilm at the Maine State Library, Augusta, Maine.

A Monster Maine Atlantic Salmon

This is a photograph from fisheries scientist Ed Baum's 1997 book, Maine Atlantic Salmon: A National Treasure, which is the scientific and cultural magnum opus on the subject. It's a snapshot of a very happy young man, Cameron Clark, with a 27 pound Atlantic salmon he caught on a flyrod on Maine's Machias River on June 19, 1982.

This photo, perhaps more than any I've seen, gives you a sense of how truly monstrous Maine Atlantic salmon are. This salmon is the size of a typical repeat spawner or three sea winter spawner in the Kennebec prior to the decimation of the run in the early 1800s. Our Wiscasset Register informant from 1825, who ran 300 foot drift nets for salmon at Popham Beach at the mouth the Kennebec around 1800, stated that the 'first shoal' of salmon they caught in early May averaged 18-22 pounds, which means that to obtain such an average size there were quite a few salmon of this size and larger in the schools.

It is of demographic note that this Maine commercial Atlantic salmon fisherman from the early 1800s referred to salmon in the 8-12 pound range as 'small' salmon. Adult Maine salmon in the 8-12 pound range are now considered 'big,' only because salmon of the size caught by Cameron Clark in 1982 no longer exist in Maine.

So this Atlantic salmon caught by Cameron Clark in 1982 is fairly representative of the size of the salmon that used to come up the Kennebec River by the tens of thousands each spring and summer, and now, sadly, are almost completely gone.

Thanks to Ed Baum of Hermon, Maine for preserving and publishing this iconic photograph.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Some Background on our Maine Atlantic Salmon Lawsuit

Kennebec River Atlantic salmon, October 1996.
The following (written in op/ed-ese) for the Waterville, Maine Morning Sentinel quickly scopes the salient issues:

Breaking the Law is Different from Obeying the Law

By Douglas Watts
Augusta, Maine

Public documents going back 20 years show that hydroelectric dam owners on the Kennebec River have been aware that fish are sucked into their turbines and are killed and maimed. This happens because the intakes of the turbines are open and unscreened, like a window fan with no protective mesh.
Atlantic salmon are killed at hydroelectric dams by the same mechanism as shown above for American eels.

In June 2009 the few dozen remaining Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec were declared an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is a federal crime to kill a Kennebec River Atlantic salmon. If you or I did it, we would go to jail.

Kennebec dam owners continue to leave their turbines open and unscreened and allow Atlantic salmon to swim through them, leading to their death.

Because these dam owners have failed to take prompt action to protect the few Atlantic salmon left in the Kennebec, myself and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine are suing these dam owners in federal court to stop this killing.

Putting in the turbine screens will cost the dam owners a minuscule fraction of their annual profits. Turbine screening has been done now for half a decade at the Benton Falls Dam in Benton and the American Tissue Dam in Gardiner with no effect on their ability to generate electricity.

The Kennebec River is owned by us; not out-of-state dam owners. Using a public river for private gain is a privilege, not a right, and with it comes a responsibility to not interfere with our rights to the river and our right to expect that all laws will be obeyed and endangered species will not be harmed or killed or go extinct. This is why we pass laws.

News item, Kennebec Journal, July 1880.

Maine Public Radio on our Kennebec and Androscoggin River Atlantic Salmon Lawsuit

From Feb. 1, 2011.

This piece written by Scott Monroe of the Waterville, Maine Morning Sentinel; and this piece by David Sharp of the Associated Press as reprinted by Bloomberg News cover the basics.

Hey !!! A big business law paper covered our Maine Atlantic Salmon lawsuit.

This piece is by subscription only, but cuz I was sent a copy by a subscriber and it's about me, I am going to let you read it:


Green Groups Sue Maine Dam Operators Over Salmon

By Bibeka Shrestha

Law360, New York (February 1, 2011) -- Two conservation groups have sued NextEra Energy Resources Inc. and other hydroelectric dam operators on the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers in Maine, accusing them of harming the endangered Atlantic salmon population by allowing the fish to pass through turbines.

Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine filed four complaints on Monday against NextEra, Brookfield Renewable Power Inc., Topsham Hydro Partners Limited Partnership, Miller Hydro Group, Merimil Limited Partnership and several affiliates in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuits target the owners and operators of four dams on the Kennebec River and three dams on the Androscoggin River, alleging these dams are killing or injuring migrating salmon that try to pass through spinning turbine blades, and are otherwise impeding the salmon's ability to travel upstream and downstream on the rivers.

The dam operators have violated the Endangered Species Act by preventing Atlantic salmon from reaching a significant amount of spawning and rearing habitats and significantly impairing the salmon population's essential behavior patterns, according to the complaint.

Merimil, NextEra, Brookfield and their affiliates are also violating the Clean Water Act by not conducting a required study to prove that allowing downstream-migrating adult salmon to pass through their dams' turbines is safe, the complaint said.

These companies are allegedly violating water quality certifications, which require them to conduct site-specific quantitative studies in consultation with the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to show that passage through the turbines does not result in significant injury or death.

Atlantic salmon were officially designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in June 2009, the same month the NMFS designated the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers as critical habitats, according to the complaint.

The rivers, which share a common estuary at Merrymeeting Bay, historically enjoyed the largest Atlantic salmon runs in the country, estimated at more than 100,000 adults annually, according to the groups.

In 2010, however, 10 adult salmon returned to the Androscoggin and five adult salmon returned to the Kennebec, the groups said.

“These dams are pushing an iconic Maine fish to the brink of extinction," said Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine, in a statement Tuesday. "With the number of Atlantic salmon perilously low, the need for action to protect the fish and their habitat is urgent."

The groups are asking the court to order the dam owners and operators to conduct a biological assessment to determine whether their actions are adversely affecting the salmon population.

They also hope to block the dam owners and operators from allowing salmon to swim through operating turbines unless they receive authorization through an incidental take permit or incidental take statement, which would require them to minimize and mitigate the impacts of harming the endangered fish to the "maximum extent possible," the complaint said.

The groups claim the dam owners can implement simple measures, such as installing effective devices to divert salmon from turbines and stopping the turbines during salmon migration season.

"The salmon population is nearly extinct, and the dam owners and operators need to take immediate steps to implement measures to protect the salmon," said David Nicholas, an attorney representing the conservation groups, on Tuesday. "If they don't, we're facing an extinction possibility."

NextEra declined to comment on the lawsuit on Tuesday.

Attorneys or representatives for Miller, Topsham and Brookfield did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The environmental groups are represented by Joshua R. Kratka and Charles C. Caldart of the National Environmental Law Center and David A. Nicholas and Bruce M. Merrill of Law Offices of Bruce Merrill PA.

Nancy Skancke of Law Offices of GKRSE is representing Miller and Topsham.

Counsel information for the other defendants was not immediately available Tuesday.

The cases are Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. Miller Hydro Group, case number 2:11-cv-00036; Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. NextEra Energy Resources Inc. et al., case number 2:11-cv-00038; Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. Topsham Hydro Partners Limited Partnership, case number 2:11-cv-00037; and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and Environment Maine v. Brookfield Renewable Power Inc. et al., case number 1:11-cv-00035, all in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.

Bibeka Shrestha

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