As in all rivers in Maine, the East Machias River Atlantic salmon population has crashed catastrophically. The East Machias, however, is one of the few that still has a remnant natural population. It is also one of the few that still has the full suite of sea-run fish species—river herring, smelt, shad, lamprey, American eel, and others—that it had historically.
Since our founding in 1982, The Downeast Salmon Federation has worked to bring the salmon back to eastern Maine. Early on, we adopted a comprehensive, ecosystem approach knowing that salmon wouldn’t thrive unless all the parts of its hosting ecosystem were healthy and robust. With our partners and allies, we have removed dams, replaced culverts, restored habitat, improved water quality, worked to restore other sea-run fish species, and protected miles of riparian habitat and many hundreds of acres of uplands.
While we work in all the rivers and streams east of the Penobscot River, our single greatest investment has been in the East Machias watershed. In addition to our restoration work, we have built on the banks of the river our East Machias outreach center, which houses the Peter Gray Conservation Hatchery. Modeled on a hatchery in England that restored salmon to a river in which they had become nearly extinct, our hatchery raises a genetically distinct population of salmon native to the East Machias watershed in an environment as closely identical to a natural environment as possible. We use, for example, unfiltered, unsterilized water piped directly from the river so that the developing eggs and juvenile salmon are exposed to the micro-organisms, the water chemistry, the temperatures, and other characteristics of the environment they will be released into. In the fall, we stock several hundred thousand parr (nine-month-old salmon) in the river.
The hatchery is in the sixth year of the Parr Project. If the Parr Project succeeds in generating a self-sustaining population of wild salmon, it could, if replicated in other rivers, reduce the cost and the time required to restore wild Atlantic salmon populations in the other four salmon rivers of the Downeast Salmon Habitat Recovery Unit.
Beaverdam Stream is good sea-run brook trout habitat and it also has 354 acres of ponds and lakes in its drainage that could annually produce between 40 and 80 thousand alewives (river herring). Salmon smolt out-migrate to the sea with the much more numerous juvenile alewives, which help protect smolt from predation.
Protection of the riparian corridors is critical to ensuring the water quality and health of a watershed. Most of Beaverdam Stream runs through protected lands. DSF is working toward the completion of a land conservation project that would protect an addition 850 feet of stream frontage.
We will be purchasing a 45-acre lot and
building a road to provide overland access to neighboring landowners so that we can remove a stream-crossing which hinders fish passage into habitat rich Beaverdam Stream.
There is a commercial blueberry farm on one of the pieces of property we seek to purchase as part of this conservation project which uses agricultural chemicals. We will transition this farm to an organic model reducing chemical run-off.
Reasons that demonstrate the critical value of reopening Beaverdam Stream:
- The stream is a major tributary of a river that represents one of the bestopportunities for salmon recovery;
- The stream contains the largest amount of inaccessible salmon habitat remaining in the East Machias watershed;
- This restoration project will, by eliminating the impoundments behind the stream-crossing, reduce water temperatures in the main-stem and open up thermal refugia in the upper reaches of Beaverdam Stream;
- The project—critically—will support the salmon recovery model DSF has developed on the East Machias, which we intend to replicate in the other Downeast rivers;
- The project will provide habitat for other diadromous species, such as the alewife, that support salmon recovery;
- A substantial length of the riparian corridor will be protected;
- The agricultural chemical run-off will be reduced.
To learn more about how you can help support our habitat restoration work on the East Machias, email DSF staff member Brett Ciccotelli at Brett@mainesalmonrivers.org or call (207) 483-4336.