Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Magazine
Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors
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BETWEEN THE HEAD of tide above Bangor to where it widens into the bay at Searsport, the Penobscot River shifts from a flowing freshwater waterway banked by cedar and pine to a brackish, wave-lapped marsh with a rocky shoreline. In this estuary, salt concentrations fluctuate as the winds and tides push sea water and sediments back and forth. The estuary and the river that feeds it have taken on a new character recently, and have become an international example of watershed restoration. Despite two centuries of intensive timber harvesting and pulp and paper manufacturing, and the construction of hundreds of dams related to those industries, the Penobscot has fared better than most New England rivers over the years, which helps explain why the river has received so much attention. Though still recovering from years of abuse, the Penobscot has potential. Compared to other waterways of a similar size, the Penobscot has fewer dams, better water quality, and—most important to fish biologists— it is one of the few New England rivers that still hosts all 12 species of native sea-run or migratory fish, including the largest remaining run of Atlantic salmon in America. The Penobscot Indian Nation and six conservation organizations initiated the Penobscot River Restoration Project more than a decade ago, with the goal of restoring fish populations and related ecological and economic benefits. Millions of fish once filled the river, sustaining the Penobscot Indian Nation for thousands of years, and supporting commercial and recreational fisheries. The Great Works Dam was removed in 2012 and the Veazie Dam in 2013. In the summer of 2016, engineers completed a bypass channel around the Howland Dam on the Piscataquis River, a major tributary. With improved access to thousands of miles of habitat, the big question was whether the fish populations would rebound. Now, the initial post-dam removal results are coming in.
Schmitt, Catherine, "Penobscot River restoration" (2016). Maine Sea Grant Publications. 114.