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On the Move: Repairing Aging Infrastructure and Protecting Migratory Fish Pathways

By Jenna Pirrotta, Integrated Statistics, under contract to Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office

View of Penobscot River (click image for larger view)

Aging Infrastructure and Vulnerable Habitat

The Penobscot River Bridge in Howland and Enfield, Maine was built in 1946 and now needs to be replaced. The Penobscot River supports many types of sea-run fish including alewife, American shad, Atlantic salmon, and blueback herring. However, in the past, the river supported much higher numbers of these fish. The Penobscot River watershed is one of two Habitat Focus Areas in the Greater Atlantic Region. Through NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint Initiative, efforts are underway to improve fish passage and restore important fish habitats in the Penobscot River watershed. Bridge replacement can damage fish habitat or get in the way of fish trying to move past the bridge. The construction could threaten efforts to restore fish populations.

What do we do to protect habitat?

Bridge replacements can impact fish habitats both during and after construction. To protect important fish habitats including spawning and feeding areas, the Habitat Conservation Division reviews bridge plans and provides recommendations. We make sure that the construction and design of the bridge is done in a way that has the least amount of impact on fish habitats. During review of the Penobscot River Bridge replacement, we raised concerns about impacts to fish passing through the area. Due to our involvement, the amount of fill in the river was reduced, allowing more space for the fish to pass through during construction. Having enough space to swim through is important so that fish can travel to areas beyond the bridge where they spawn.

We work hard to make sure road and bridge projects avoid and reduce negative impacts to important fish habitats- both during and after construction. We recognize the need to balance the importance of maintaining our roads with the need to protect important aquatic habitats.

How will we address these types of projects in the future?

Besides reviewing bridge replacements like the Penobscot River project, we are working on techniques to improve the review process. Together with the Federal Highway Administration, we will improve coordination, increase our mutual understanding of issues and concerns, and reduce review and construction timeframes, while minimizing impacts to the environment.

We are creating guidance which describes each other’s roles and responsibilities during transportation project review. It includes a list of project information that transportation agencies need to provide to us and describes the steps taken during the review process. We are also working on a manual of best management practices for transportation agencies to use during their project planning. The manual explains the negative effects of certain actions on fish and their habitats and recommends ways to lessen those effects. The guidance and manual will benefit the transportation agencies and us, as well as the fish and the habitats we care about.