Video Preview: Restoring Fish Passage Around Dams in Maine

I’ve been working this month producing a couple of videos for organizations calling for the implementation of fish passage around dams that prevent fish from getting upstream to spawn. In Maine, there are eleven species of fish that are born in fresh water, swim out to the Gulf of Maine where they spend years growing into adults before swimming back to their freshwater place of birth to spawn. (Fish that do this are known as anadromous fish.) Dams on rivers and streams prevent fish from making this return journey. These dams were once key to the economic health of Maine (and the rest of New England), powering saw mills, textile mills, and other factories, but today most of these dams are relics no longer needed for their original purpose.

The above clip is a short preview of the video I’m producing for Upstream, a small non-profit in Gardiner, Maine, working to get fish passage implemented at the three dams in Gardiner which prevent fish from moving up Cobbossee Stream. It is estimated that about 100,000 alewives attempt to swim up Cobbossee Stream every spring, but are blocked from their spawning grounds by the dams in Gardiner. By providing fish passage around these dams, alewife numbers in Cobbossee Stream could reach 3 million or more fish in a few years.

Alewives, a species of river herring, swimming upstream hoping to spawn in the lakes and ponds above Maine’s Cobbossee Stream.

Alewives are a keystone species that seem to be food for everything. While in freshwater rivers and streams they are eaten by all kinds of birds, like herons, eagles, osprey, gulls, and kingfishers, as well as mammals like mink, river otter, and coyote. At sea they are an important food source for commercial species like cod, haddock, and striped bass, and they are harvested by the ton as bait for lobster. Currently present at only about 4% of their historic numbers, restoring fish runs and increasing the amount of alewives in our river and streams can only benefit our inland and coastal ecosystems.

One of three dams on Cobbossee Stream preventing fish passage.
Ryan Smith manning the GoPro fish cam.

The fish were so numerous at the base of the first dam in Gardiner that we could easily get underwater footage of the fish using the above home-made fish cam rig with a GoPro on the end. My colleague Ryan Smith quickly became a fish cam master.

We’ll be releasing the entire Upstream video later this summer as well as another video focusing on a different set of dams further north in Maine. UPDATE: The film is completed and should be released some time in October.

Cheers!
-Jerry

P.S. I’m always looking for cool new projects like this one. If your organization is looking to produce some custom content, you can let me know the details on my custom shoot inquiry form.

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