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Rolling On Salmon: Take 2 - The Penobscot River

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GGP Films

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Gray Ghost Productions Blog: Rolling On Salmon Take 2 - The Penobscot River

Salmo salar. Arguably translated as “the leaper,” this Latin term describes a fish whose attempts at doing what it is genetically pre-programmed to do are nothing short of amazing. History has proven that if you give this fish an opportunity to succeed, it will. Against all odds. Yet, since the American Revolution, humans have time after time created countless challenges within the river systems that these majestic fish inhabit.

The Penobscot River, once home to one of the most productive and healthy Atlantic salmon fisheries in the world, certainly the most productive in the US, is a perfect example of these challenges. We’ve spent a lot of time on this river system lately, and it will play a large part in the film. The Penobscot has received a lot of attention in the last few years, playing large parts in the Atlantic salmon’s listing as an endangered species, as well as the River Restoration Trust, Trout Unlimited and the Atlantic Salmon Federation's dam removal discussions. More importantly is the immensely exciting spike in the fish count at the Veazie Trap this year. According to reports from Maine DMR, this year was the 3rd largest count since 1978 with a total of 3,124, the largest run in 20 years!!!

A few quick facts about the Penobscot River: From Bangor to the confluence of the East and West Branches in Medway the main-stem is 74 miles long. If you include all of the tributaries, the Penobscot drainage includes over 1600 miles of streams and rivers with 625 lakes and ponds. Not all of these tributaries are salmon habitat, but you get the point; it’s a large system. And thanks to the efforts of many people, the river is as clean as it’s been in years.

But clean water doesn’t matter much if the fish can’t swim up to spawn in it. We discovered that at current count, 19 dams span the river, from the headwaters of the West Branch to Bangor, including the Piscataquis River and the Stillwater section. To those concerned with Atlantic salmon, the most significant would probably be the Veazie Dam, as it is the first structure that a salmon would hit on its way up river to spawn.

This past June we had the great opportunity to roll cameras at the Veazie Trap and spend a day with Oliver Cox and his crew from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. We also spent some time talking with some incredibly passionate biologists about the Penobscot. I encourage you to take a look at the rough-cut video.

With help from the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, Trout Unlimited, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and many other organizations, the Veazie Dam has been scheduled to be removed in 2014, and the Great Works Dam in Old Town is listed to come out in 2012. One of the most poignant things we have learned in this process is that although we are madly in love with Salmo salar, other, less sexy fish are just as important to the inter-workings of a healthy river ecosystem. The lowly shad, and the alewife offer much to the overall restoration of this formidable waterway. But the worst may be over. Restoration has begun. Step by step, inch by inch, the Penobscot is starting to return to its original glory. This is great news for sportsmen, but one of the most important lessons we have learned is that the benefits of a restored ecosystem have benefits that transcend fishing; everyone and every living thing benefits from restored balance.

As we start to wrap up filming for this project, the blog post: Rolling on Salmon will be updated more frequently. Looking ahead, you can expect to see footage from our adventure to the Adlatok River in Labrador with Robin Reeve and John Gierach, or the GGP crew on location in Gaspe, the Atlantic salmon’s impact on our native peoples, as well as a look back to the sporting heritage of Salmon fishing. As always we love to hear your feedback, you and your stories are very important to us.

Yours in rivers,

The GGP Crew

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