asj summer2016 Honour System

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1 S F P A S H A G E I S N O T S R E V L I S N E I T R Y M A B H O N O U R M S Y S E T M Y V A E H D N A Y E N O M S E K A T S M A D D L O G N I V O E R , E N I A M N I A M O L P I D R O F K C A N K A O S L A T U B , Y R E N I H C A M C Y . C I T N U L L E W T E W G N I H T Y R E V E T H E S T I L K Y B U N I N C I D E N T . N Don’t get me wrong, I’m no angel when it comes to keeping things neat and clean. Okay, I admit it, I’m a slob. Maybe I shouldn’t have been sur- prised when Chris Murray did not want to let me back in his Ford Ranger with the sugary, gooey roll. Despite my best efforts, I’d already spilled coffee, ground chocolate into the seat and now there would be cinnamon E and sugar all over the once spotless vehicle. N O T S R I felt bad, Murray was doing me a solid, driving me down to Maine E V L I S N via Connecticut on a sort of working vacation for both of us. The plan was I T R A M to visit a few salmon rivers under restoration, to see a couple of dams and experience first-hand some of the issues ASF was in the process of trying to resolve. Now after a couple of days on the road, we found our- selves following Andy Goode, ASF vice-president, U.S. programs, to the first of two old, but still impressive mill dams on the Sheepscot River. This one was at Head Tide in Alna and when we parked just outside the village, Goode described to us how his plan to overcome a political and legal impasse over the future of the dam, now had a better than even chance of getting approval from the town’s selectmen. All over Maine and elsewhere in New England thick, impenetrable stone and concrete dams still block rivers, a legacy to the shingle, buck- et, and saw log mills that helped settle and support these rural commu- nities. Today, many communities still value their presence as part of their cultural identity. Yet these relics are also responsible, in part, for why so many of our migratory fisheries are at less than 1% of their his- torical abundance. To Atlantic salmon conservationists like us, taking out these neglected dams to improve fish passage is a no-brainer. Strangely enough, big dam projects, like the recently completed Y A Penobscot removals, may be easier to build a consensus around. Along R R U M S smaller rivers that pass through little towns and hamlets, approval I R H C means winning the trust of locals. At Coopers Mills, the dam removal will allow access to miles of “For some townspeople, the dam is purely an emotional attachment prime Atlantic salmon habitat. By understanding and accepting or as simple as the dam having always been there, so why change it?” local concerns over safety issues like water sources, Andy Goode Goode says, pointing to the cliff on the opposite shore. “Or maybe, they (with old hydrant, top) was able to propose a better dry hydrant might have remembered, as children, jumping in that swimming hole system for fire trucks to use. In the end, both people, and salmon that will have access to clean spawning gravel (above), will benefit. right there.” O 8 1 0 2 R E M M U S | L A N R U 6 J N O M L A S C I T N A L T A 1

2 E In small town Maine, locals often rely on the honour system to sell goods like eggs N It’s like a good detective novel. At Head Tide, the O T S and butter. ASF’s Andy Goode (above) uses his own people skills to convince the R E selectmen could not agree to taking down a dam that to V L I S same residents that the goals of dam removal are honourable and beneficial to all. N I T them simply had historic and nostalgic value. But, as it R A M also improve public safety and access, and preserve the was built in 1916, repairs were needed, and the town’s crumbling mill foundations along the bank for future gen- financial position did not allow it to spend the kind of erations to enjoy, something which doesn’t exist at pres- money required. There was also an ancient agreement in ent,” he says, pointing out serious erosion along the bank the original deed between the dam’s builder and the town. that he plans to mitigate as well. The dam was never to come down—thus the impasse. Just a few days after submitting the proposal, the With ASF footing the bill, however, Goode, working town lawyer responded that he thought this cooperative with engineers, landscape designers, and a local commit- approach might just work. As we got back into our vehi- tee, came up with an attractive proposal to improve fish cles to head to the Coopers Mills site, it occurred to me passage. It would remove about 20 feet of the dam where that Goode had been successful in convincing the town the old water control gate housing was badly deteriorat- that he would be improving the dam instead of removing ing, keeping the dam’s main features intact. “We would A L 1 9 L A N O O M U J U R N S C I T N A L T A | 6 1 0 2 R E M M S

3 S S G A I F H S E A P power. But he is also very pragmatic. There are two it. I thought to myself that in addition to knowing about s chools of thought on the return of these few salmon. f ish passage, engineering and people skills, a little magic O ne feels it is basically meaningless, the eggs laid mere d oesn’t hurt when removing dams. “footnotes,” as one writer called them, in an irreversible T T T downward trend. The other line of thinking, which Steve seemed to favour, is more optimistic. “These fish lived in And dam removal remains key to salmon recovery in the river, then swam out in the ocean all the way to the Maine. As a graphic example, a day earlier, Murray and I coast of Greenland, and back,” he told us. Their tenacity had met up with Steve Gephard. In the Spring edition of h ighlights the presence of rivers with good water quality t he magazine, I had written about the salmon that had and adequate spawning habitat, and salmon that seem to been found spawning in the Farmington River in Maine. know how to find them. The torrent of emails correcting me (my weak defense: His optimism finds an outlet in a legacy program for there is a Farmington, Maine, near the Sandy River which Connecticut salmon which sees 250,000 fry still released is also under restoration) was enough to make me want into tributaries each year to maintain the genetic line, and to do due penance and go check out the site, which is some hope. We leave the mall parking lot and I struggle actually in Connecticut. Plus, it probably goes without to keep up with the spry 63-year-old as we scramble down saying, but having worked on my first salmon study way to the river bank. The river is wide here, you can see some back in 1980, anything to do with this formidable species gravel bars and Gephard points out the spots where salmon will always fascinate me. used their tails to dig out bathtub-sized nests or redds. It’s not your typical spawning area, in the middle of such an urban milieu. The fish here could have come from fry stocked before the program ended, but more likely they were from a group of broodstock fish released five years ago, when room was needed at the White River hatchery. D A M R E N O M A N Y L A V O M R I V E R S , M R A I N S K E Y T O S A L N O E M R E I I A M Y . N E C O V E R N When salmon in many rivers in Maine were listed as endangered, the Connecticut River fish were left out because they weren’t deemed indigenous to the river. In - the early years the restoration effort had used Newfound land fish, then later Penobscot stock. Still, these fish had found their way back from Greenland, around Cape Cod, and into the mouth of the Connecticut to here. “These are pretty much Connecticut stock now,” is one of the last things Gephard says to me, his tone dripping with regret that the U.S. had largely chosen to abandon the program. Murray and I follow the Farmington upstream, noting E N O the clear water and improving spawning habitat as we T S R E V L I drive north. But the reason no fish spawn here is obvious. S N I T R Dams. At Collinsville, a large concrete one arcs across the A M river, originally there to serve a now abandoned machete Despite funding cuts Steve Gephard hopes that the current stocking program can and axe factory. Gephard had mentioned there were plans conserve the remnant of the Connecticut River salmon population. to breach it to improve fish passage. Another ray of hope for a beleaguered run, if the salmon could only hold on Gephard was kind enough to take the time to meet us that long. along the Farmington River (sorry, exact location secret). I immediately recognized in him a kindred spirit. He has T T T been involved with the salmon restoration effort for close to 40 years. It must have been tough when, in 2012—the Next day, and four hours to the north, Goode leads us to year various U.S. departments threw in the towel—the our second stop on the Sheepscot. We’re in backroads massive stocking of fry came to an abrupt end. Maine, where there are no malls and no asphalt parking Still, the State of Connecticut biologist was as fascinat- lots. Less developed, the river looks wild with gravelled ed as anyone else by how the fish returned on their own beds ready for salmon to spawn, if they can reach them. R U O J N O M L A S C I T N A L T A 2 WWW.ASF.CA 6 1 0 2 R E M M U S | 0 A N L

4 The Head Tide Dam, built in 1916, is cherished by townspeople but in dire need of repairs, thus offering an opportunity to improve fish passage (top). ASF is working with M ( C H R I S ) U R R A Y 2 local partner the Midcoast Conservancy to remove the Coopers Mills Dam on the Sheepscot River (above). T I C S A L M O N S J O U R N A L 2 1 WWW.ASF.CA U M M E R 2 0 1 6 | A T L A N

5 F H E G A S S A P S I From what I can tell, it looks like they are getting their I’ve been given the boot from Murray’s pickup, but my m oney’s worth. h ands are still sticky as we follow the winding routes. “ We’ve already spent 60,000 dollars here,” Goode says G oode shares Gephard’s passion, and perhaps because he his hand sweeping along the Coopers Mills Dam. “All on understands what is at stake, there seems to be a certain studies and plans, not a piece of dam has been touched urgency to the task at hand. yet.” Just like Goode discovered that one of the key con- At the Whitefield General Store, where I bought the sensus points at Head Tide was the heritage and nostalgic “guilty” sticky bun, he is on familiar terms with the girls value of the dam, he also narrowed in on one of the at the counter. He orders a quiche for breakfast and more t own's major concerns. The headpond behind the dam is m aple syrup than one person could ever possibly hope to a critical source of water for fighting fires in Whitefield ever consume. There’s a method to his consumptive mad- and the surrounding communities. Goode was sympathet- ness, however. He works hard to send a message that ASF ic, recognizing that when you are a selectman facing isn’t here to knock down a couple of dams and then dis- questions from citizens, it’s hard to answer when some- appear. He wants locals to know we are here for the long one asks: “Is a fish more important than a person whose haul, even after work on the dam is completed. house is on fire?” The Coopers Mills Dam is an impressive old, laid stone Of course not, and Goode found the answer in a tech- mill dam and taller than Head Tide, yet Goode has already nology known as dry hydrants. He showed me where a found a point to build consensus around. Countless coun- new fire lane would be built just upstream to a standpipe cil and committee meetings are mostly behind him as are that will draw water through underground piping extend- the many nighttime drives, in all kinds of weather, along ing out into the river. In much greater detail, he explained these small, curvy, deer-filled roads. to the local citizen committee, how this source and anoth- er new dry hydrant nearby would be a vast improvement L A R G E S T R S A L M O N E V E T H E over the current system that is often inoperable and vul- nerable to complete loss if the ageing, leaking dam fails. A A U G H T I N M N I N E W A S O C Patiently, he had to answer questions on flow rates, and C S P E E H S E T H T . O fire truck pumper capacities. “Yes, I probably know more about dry hydrants than I ever could have imagined,” Goode, whose background is more in river ecology than The Sheepscot River is midsized, certainly nowhere hydrant engineering, tells me as he chuckles. At both near the size of the Penobscot. On June 14th a celebration sites, he is more at home explaining how improving fish to mark the completion of the Howland Dam bypass will passage will help runs for salmon, alewives, shad and signal the end of major works on that river’s giant sea lampreys. restoration project. ASF’s involvement will continue on It’s all part of the magic. Once again, here at Coopers habitat improvements on the headwaters and tributaries Mills, in response to local concerns he has found a way of the Penobscot, as well as on monitoring. Other rivers, to approach dam removal in a way that develops the right like the East Machias and the Kennebec, also have active package of community benefits to improve both the fish- restoration programs being run by diverse ASF affiliates, eries and the needs of the local community. The restora- with help from ASF staff. tion of salmon, it seems, is as much about people as it is One reason ASF has recently got involved directly about just fixing fish passage. On March 19th, the citizens with the Sheepscot is that there wasn’t much interest of Whitefield voted overwhelmingly to accept ASF’s and from other parties in taking on the task. For the past the Midcoast Conservancy’s proposal to remove the dam. 75 years, no one has been able to make any progress And here too, Goode doesn’t forget the details, as he addressing the two mill dams on the main stem of the suddenly remembers he needs eggs to go with his maple river. Why bother working to fix the blocked road cross- syrup. Across the road from the dam site, there is a small ings or providing passage into the lakes if the fish could roadside stand. The sign reads: organic eggs $5, with a not reach them? That thinking has only made it even box for the money—it’s the honour system. He puts more of a priority for Goode and ASF. If this ignored river money in the slot, then he is gone, off for a meeting with can be restored, it will give hope to the dozens of other a town engineer upriver in the town of Windsor, where dam-choked streams in the Northeast. ASF is going to help with some culvert replacements to And there is another reason, perhaps a little more ensure adequate fish passage into the smaller Sheepscot romantic. “The largest salmon ever caught in Maine was tributary streams. on the Sheepscot,” Goode tells me. This was a 28-lb fish I reach for a dozen as well, but Murray catches my caught at the Tidal Falls Pool in 1980. We can all dream. eye. He is willing to forget the sticky bun incident, but if There was once an Atlantic salmon hatchery on the river I want a ride home, I’d better forget the eggs. and a Sheepscot River Salmon Club, too. When they dis- banded a few years ago, they had around $1200 saved in their bank account, which they donated to ASF, to keep e d i t o r o f t h e A t l a n t i c S a l m o n J o u r n a l . H e M a r t i n S i l v e r s t o n e i s that dream alive. e t a n d M a i n e i n A p r i l 2 0 1 6 . i t c e n n o C o t d e l l u v a r t c O 2 6 1 0 2 R E M M U S | L A N R U WWW.ASF.CA J N O M L A S C I T N A L T A 2

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