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Maine dam company to make changes to try to save salmon

The Weston Dam was seen holding back the Kennebec River on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Skowhegan, Maine. Brookfield Renewable is the owner of four dams along the Kennebec River, including Weston.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The owner of hydroelectric dams in Maine said Monday it’s going to make changes to some of its operations to try to help save the final remaining wild Atlantic salmon in the United States.

Some of the country’s last wild populations of the fish are found in a few Maine rivers. Salmon counters found fewer of the fish on one of those rivers, the Penobscot, last year than in any year since 2016.

Brookfield Renewable US said Monday that it has begun shutdown procedures for dams on the lower Kennebec River to help the salmon migrate. The company is a subsidiary of a larger Canadian company that owns many dams in Maine.

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A spokesperson for the company, David Heidrich, said the shutdowns will continue until the end of the salmon migrating season. The company said it made the voluntary move to shut down some operations after the detection of young salmon in the Sandy River, a tributary of the Kennebec.

The company is also working with regulators, including the Maine Department of Maine Resources, to help ensure safe passage of the salmon, Heidrich said.

“We are working closely with the DMR and the National Marine Fisheries Service to limit any potential impact to smolt during their downriver migration,” Heidrich said.

Atlantic salmon were once plentiful in American rivers, but factors such as dams, overfishing, and pollution hurt populations, and they are now listed under the Endangered Species Act in the US. The fish is familiar to seafood consumers because it’s heavily fish farmed.

Environmental groups have long pressured Brookfield Renewable to take steps to help protect the few salmon that still return to Maine. Nick Bennett, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in April to say Brookfield should begin its protections at the beginning of the month, which young salmon start migrating.

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“It’s too little, too late,” Bennett said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.