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Restoring a Fishery Downeast

Updated 1/25/2019: In 2017, MCHT successfully conserved the 2,352-acre parcel of land on Rocky Lake

Abundant runs of river herring (blueback herring and alewives) once turned Washington County’s Orange River into “a miracle of water and life.” River herring, known to the Passamaquoddy as the “fish that feeds all,” once sustained wildlife from the Gulf of Maine and Cobscook Bay to the upper reaches of the watershed. Today, Maine Coast Heritage Trust is working with partners to revitalize the Orange River’s alewife run by conserving adjacent lands and improving fish passage.

“The Orange River watershed contains one of the largest remaining unbroken blocks of forest habitat in coastal Maine,” notes MCHT’s Regional Project Manager Jacob van de Sande. “However, less than 10 percent of the area is conserved.” In response, MCHT, The Conservation Fund, and the Downeast Fisheries Partnership are seeking to raise $2.2 million by year-end to protect a 2,352-acre tract in the heart of the watershed. When completed, this project will strengthen the river’s fishery by sustaining the water quality of Rocky and Orange lakes.

Another hurdle to restoring the Orange River’s fishery is addressing its four historic dams and numerous culverts that restrict passage. Thanks to contributions from many supporters, MCHT recently contributed to the Downeast Salmon Federation’s pending purchase of a dam located at Whiting Corner, the river’s largest impediment. This year, both organizations will seek community input to assess options for restoring fish passage here.

The restoration of fish runs to the Orange River will provide far–reaching benefits: feeding abundant eagle and osprey populations; generating revenues for local towns and fishermen; supplying lobster bait; and potentially even rebuilding the region’s ground fisheries. In time, a revitalized river system promises to “feed all” in the region.

Paddle the Orange River this May

Occurring in tandem with fish restoration are efforts to enhance recreational access to the Orange River. In collaboration with Downeast Coastal Conservancy, which owns 800 acres in the watershed, MCHT is planning portage trails and campsites to reestablish a traditional Passamaquoddy canoe route from Cobscook Bay to Machias Bay. Once developed, this water trail, alongside expanded opportunities for hiking, hunting and fishing, will likely draw new visitors to the region.