At the base of the Leonard Lake Dam, people have reported a large amount of dead alewives. Representative from the Downeast Salmon Federation, Brett Ciccotelli, says many of the fish have consistent cause of death.
“River herring are trying to pass Leonard Lake Dam coming from upstream and going downstream and it looks like they’re encountering trauma either coming from the turbines or in some way passing through the dam.”
Video taken from the fish kill shows the alewives scattered along the bank and underneath the water with large cuts. Some witnesses reported seeing thousands of dead fish being taken away as bait.
“There are ways to do this differently, these turbines here, it’s an older technology. There are turbines now that don’t kill fish, they don’t create the same kind of impact problems or pressure problems that these ones do.”
We reached out to the owners of the dam, Brookfield Renewable. They sent us this statement: “As a result of recently observed fish mortalities on the Union River, we’ve proactively changed our operations at the Ellsworth hydro facility, prioritizing units and minimum flows, to see if these modifications will reduce the nominal mortalities seen during this season’s migration. We are in frequent contact with all relevant state and federal regulators to inform them of happenings in real-time so we can work together to find the most effective path forward.”
Ciccotelli says this isn’t the first time the dam has caused issues for the herring population.
“There’s an assumption about this population of alewives that they’re healthy and that they’re reproducing in a way that’s somewhat natural and if we’re losing this many fish coming down the stream presumably every year, something’s not working here.”
The Downeast Salmon Federation says if something isn’t done to fix the death rate of the fish, the rest of Maine could start to feel the effects.
“People use alewives economically in this state. We harvest them for lobster bait and our off-shore Atlantic herring runs are diminishing as many fisherman in Downeast Maine know and it gets harder and harder to get bait. They feed cod, they feed halibut, they feed all of what were formally our really important ground fisheries.”