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Veazie Dam Removal

Veazie Dam fishway in fog. Photo credit: Oliver Cox

Veazie Dam Removal will Help Four Sea-Run Fish to Reach Historic Spawning and Nursery Areas on Penobscot River System

Today as NOAA Fisheries and its partners celebrate the beginning of a year-long effort to remove the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River,  we are also announcing the award of an additional $1.4 million to support recovery of the Penobscot watershed ecosystem. Through this multi-million dollar, collaborative effort, two dams are to be removed and a fishway created at a third dam. To date NOAA Fisheries has contributed an estimated $21.4 million to restore the Penobscot.

According to NOAA scientists, removal of the Veazie, which is the first dam on the Penobscot is expected to restore access to 100 percent of the historic spawning and nursery habitat on the river for Atlantic sturgeon and shortnose sturgeon, both of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act, along with two important recreational species Atlantic tomcod and striped bass.  

When the project is complete, there also will be benefits to river herring. Access will be improved to the upstream river network and 39 lakes that used to support alewife.  In total, about 93 percent of the historic habitat for blueback herring will become accessible and around 31 percent of the historic habitat for alewife. 

The Penobscot River basin, covering approximately 22,265 km2, is the largest river wholly within Maine and the second largest river system in New England. The Penobscot River Restoration Project is the result of many years of negotiations between previous dam owner Pennsylvania Power and Light, current dam owner, Black Bear Hydro, U.S. Department of the Interior, Penobscot Indian Nation, the State of Maine, NOAA and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs; Atlantic Salmon Federation, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, Natural Resource Council of Maine, among others) through the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. 

Last year, the Great Works Dam, the second main stem dam on the Penobscot River was demolished. Completion of the Veazie Dam removal is expected in 2014.  Also through this project, we expect to decommission the Howland Dam and construct a fishway around it. 

Other Project Benefits

First, improving access to habitat—that is, providing fish with the right places to breed, grow, and mature--represents our single best opportunity to recover aquatic ecosystems. Along with Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, alewife, blueback herring, Atlantic tom cod and striped bass, endangered Atlantic salmon, American shad, American eel, sea lamprey and rainbow smelt all will have improved access to former habitat.

Second, boosting the productivity of prey fish such as river herring will likely expand the food supply for many commercially important species, like cod and haddock in the Gulf of Maine, thus contributing to the potential growth of our recreational and commercial fisheries throughout the region. Estimates show that river herring, which once numbered 14-20 million, but are now reduced to a few thousand, could rebound to 4-6 million once the removals and other planned actions are complete. 

And, third through this continuing effort to restore the Penobscot watershed ecosystem, we are helping to create jobs that will have long term benefits for local and regional economies. NOAA Fisheries’ investment alone will help to create or maintain 52 annualized jobs by employing 258 people in construction, engineering, science, and project management.

Click here to read more about NOAA's work on the Penobscot.

Click here to learn more about Veazie Dam event on July 22 and work of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust