The Rivers Initiative

Generations ago, Maine’s free-flowing rivers surged through vast forests and out into the Gulf of Maine, transporting fresh water, nutrients, and billions of fish…

Over time things began to change. Roads and dams blocked passage, and overfishing and pollution degraded once-powerful rivers, causing dramatic declines in populations of sea-run fish and, as a result, declines in the other fish and wildlife that feed on them.

Today, a less productive ecosystem threatens the health of many native species and the livelihoods of those making their living from the land and water.

But it’s not too late to help Maine’s rivers, the coast, and coastal communities.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Rivers Initiative is a state-wide revitalization effort protecting land along coastal rivers, supporting collaborative restoration efforts, creating recreational and economic opportunities, and bringing more life back to the Gulf of Maine.

Teaming up with communities and regional and national partners, MCHT is now focused on the Narraguagus, Mousam, Orange, and Sheepscot rivers, which have some of the best potential for restoration and revitalization. As part of this initiative, a five-year collaborative effort led to the Bagaduce River Watershed becoming the first fully restored Maine watershed for fish passage. Learn more about how restoring and protecting these rivers makes the Maine coast more resilient to climate change.


Key Components of the Initiative

Fish Passage

In collaboration with communities and both regional and national partners, MCHT is working to improve fish passages at dams and culverts. These efforts have the potential to restore crucial species to the food chain, such as alewives. These sea-run fish have been called “the fish that feeds all” for their significance to Maine’s people, animals, fish, and birds. Restoring alewives and reestablishing the ecological balance of Maine rivers will have far-reaching impact on the Gulf of Maine, bringing back ground fish and diversifying fisheries in support of sustainable local economies.

Wildlife Habitat

In response to development pressure in Maine’s coastal communities, MCHT is creating permanent wildlife corridors for animals, birds, and fish to move unimpeded through connected landscapes. In the face of climate change, protected forests along Maine’s streams and rivers offer refuge for heat-sensitive species like brook trout and Atlantic salmon. Rivers are also important corridors for fish species, like alewives, that are key links in the regional food chain.

Economic Benefit

The Rivers Initiative contributes to the strength, resilience, and vitality of coastal communities by protecting water resources many depend upon for their livelihoods, creating public preserves and opportunities for eco-related tourism, and protecting our quality of life in Maine. Restoring fish passages has the potential to increase river herring harvests, providing jobs and bait for the lobster industry and restoration of ground-fish populations. Diversity of fisheries is critical to sustaining marine industries on the Maine coast, now heavily dependent on the lobster industry.

Recreation and Public Access

Maine’s intricate and beautiful network of rivers is revered the world over, provides incredible recreational opportunities, and is central to the quality of life in Maine communities. By protecting and revitalizing Maine rivers, MCHT will create more public access to the water and opportunities for fishing, hiking, paddling, hunting, and camping-activities cherished by Mainers and a draw for the 30 million people who visit the state each year. By expanding protection to watersheds, MCHT is also protecting Maine’s outdoor heritage and deep connection to rivers.

Focusing on Maine’s Eastern Rivers

MCHT’s Rivers Initiative began with a focus on the Bagaduce, Narraguagus, and Orange rivers, which have some of the best potential for restoration and revitalization. In the video below, learn more about this unique part of the coast and the opportunity we have to make a big impact for local communities and the Gulf of Maine.


A Partnership to Protect Maine Rivers

The Downeast Fisheries Partnership–comprised of local, regional, and national organizations–is a broader effort to reconnect eastern Maine’s rivers to the sea, bring groundfish back to the Gulf of Maine, and ensure the communities of eastern Maine can sustain themselves fishing forever.

Downeast Fisheries Partnership includes:

The Bagaduce Fishway Project

From 2016 through 2021, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, and the Three Town Alewife Committee, with help from a whole lot of other people, organizations, and agencies, completed a series of complex projects to fully restore fish passage throughout the Bagaduce River watershed. “Working together like this will make the work of conservation and restoration better, and can help it last longer,” says senior project manager Ciona Ulbrich. “This project has also made us listen better to people in the watershed who know its waters, fish, and plants.” The story of this historical collaborative effort is beautifully told in the film A Watershed Moment. Preview the film below and sign up to watch the 40-minute film in its entirety.

Watch “A Watershed Moment”

Want to Learn More?

Jacob van de Sande
Project Manager
13A Willow St.
East Machias, ME 04630


Nicky Blanchard
Director of Engagement
1 Bowdoin Mill Island, Ste. 201
Topsham, ME 04086


Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Main Office
1 Bowdoin Mill Island, Suite 201
Topsham, ME 04086