ELLSWORTH — Proceeding with glacial slowness, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week released the text of a November letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service calling for Black Bear Hydro Partners to provide more data about fish kills as part of its application to renew its license to operate the Union River dam.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to the NOAA letter, despite Black Bear’s efforts, “fish kill events continue to occur seasonally” at the dam, and that the kills often involve alewives, a species that is “an essential feature of listed critical habitat” for the endangered Atlantic salmon.
“As such,” NOAA said, “Black Bear must minimize the effect that the Ellsworth Project has on alewives.”
Last October, “a large portion” of dead alewives collected below the dam were found to be missing eyes, evidence of a condition known as barotrauma that the agency had “not observed” at other hydroelectric projects in Maine. Barotrauma generally refers to injuries caused by increased air or water pressure.
NOAA said that it was “likely” that barotrauma could affect not only river herring (alewives) but also other species including “critically endangered Atlantic salmon.”
The fisheries service asked that Black Bear, and its parent Brookfield Renewable Energy, be required to study the issue as part of the relicensing process and that the study should be done in the field and not as a “desktop analysis” because “every hydropower project is different and physical conditions change over time.”
Kimberly Damon-Randall, National Marine Fisheries Service’s assistant regional administrator for protected resources, wrote, “We look forward to hearing from FERC and Black Bear as to how the negative effects of downstream (fish) passage at this project will be minimized in the future.”