Penobscot River Restoration


After more than a decade of collaboration among the hydropower company that owned the river's dams, state and federal officials, conservation groups and the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Great Works Dam and the Veazie Dam, have been removed. A bypass around the Howland Dam also has been completed. This will improve access for migrating salmon, and open the river for river herring, sturgeon, striped bass, shad and other fish for the first time in generations.

The restoration of the Penobscot River is the largest dam removal project that TU has been involved in. It is the last best chance for the recovery of wild Atlantic salmon in the United States.

The removal of the dams will improve access to more than 1,000 miles of river to endangered Atlantic salmon and 10 other species of ocean-going fish.

Trout Unlimited is a member of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, the non-profit organization implementing the Penobscot restoration project. Other members include the Penobscot Indian Nation, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine and The Nature Conservancy.

The Penobscot River drains roughly 9,000 square miles in Maine, or about one-third of the state. Maine is home to the last remaining wild Atlantic salmon in the nation, and the Penobscot holds the state's largest population of Atlantic salmon, with annual salmon runs estimated at 50,000-70,000 prior to 1830.


TU, along with the Penobscot Indian Nation, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, working with the U.S. Department of Interior, the State of Maine, and PPL Corporation, the dam owners, negotiated a final agreement that will redefine the Penobscot River. The Nature Conservancy joined as a full partner in 2006.

The agreement, filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in June of 2004 lays out a roadmap for restoring the river that will:

  • Restore self-sustaining populations of native sea-run fish, such as the endangered Atlantic salmon, through improved access to nearly 1,000 miles of historic habitat;
  • Renew opportunities for the Penobscot Indian Nation to exercise sustenance fishing rights;
  • Create new opportunities for tourism, business and communities;
  • Resolve longstanding disputes and avoid future uncertainties over the regulation of the river.

This unprecedented and innovative agreement allows:

  • The Penobscot River Restoration Trust (Penobscot Trust) the option to purchase three dams from PPL Corporation, and subsequently remove the two lowermost dams on the river: Veazie and Great Works;
  • The Penobscot Trust, after obtaining the approval of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, to decommission and pursue construction of a state-of-the-art fish bypass around the third dam, Howland, that will, if found feasible maintain the impoundment;
  • PPL Corporation the opportunity to increase generation at six existing dams, which would result in maintaining essentially all of the current energy generation;
  • PPL Corporation to improve fish passage at four additional dams.

The final agreement was signed by PPL Corporation; the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureaus of Fish and Wildlife, and Indian Affairs, and the National Park Service; four state of Maine natural resource agencies, the State Planning Office, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Atlantic Salmon Commission; the Penobscot Indian Nation; American Rivers; Atlantic Salmon Federation; Maine Audubon; Natural Resources Council of Maine; Trout Unlimited; and the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, a Maine non-profit corporation established in May 2004 to implement the restoration project.

The Penobscot River Restoration Trust was established for the purpose of implementing the core aspects of the restoration effort, particularly the purchase and removal of the Veazie and Great Works Dams, and bypass or, if necessary, removal of the Howland Dam. The Trust's board of directors is comprised of members of the conservation groups and the Penobscot Indian Nation.


The Veazie Dam, the lowermost dam on the Penobscot River, blocked Atlantic salmon, American shad, shortnose sturgeon, and eight additional species of sea-run fish from reaching their spawning and juvenile growing habitat for nearly two centuries. Removal of the Veazie Dam, completed in 2013, follows upon the successful removal of the Great Works Dam in 2012. The lower river now flows freely from Milford to the sea, allowing endangered shortnose sturgeon, threatened Atlantic sturgeon, rainbow smelt, tomcod, and striped bass access to 100 percent of their historic habitat. Opening up the lower river is a huge step forward in realizing the Penobscot Project's goal to restore self-sustaining runs of all sea-run fisheries in the watershed. In 2014, 187,000 river herring and 805 American shad passed the Milford Dam fishlift — the first time in more than 150 years that either species had passed above the head of tide. In 2015 herring numbers continued to grow (PDF iconPenobscot Catch Summary 11_13_2015[1].pdf), with 589,000 river herring, and 1806 shad counted at the Milford fishlift, along with 731 salmon.  By June 6 in 2016 (PDF icon6-6-2016 DailySummary[1].pdf), those herring numbers had already been exceeded, with more than 1.2 million river herring, and 1772 American shad.  Atlantic salmon and striped bass were just beginning to arrive for the season.

The Howland Dam Bypass was completed in the spring of 2016, so fish that pass Milford Dam now have improved access to the Penobscot’s largest tributary, the Piscataquis River, and herring have already been observed  using the bypass.

Staff Contact

Keith Curley

VP Eastern Conservation

Author of this Page

Mark Taylor

Eastern Communications Director


Penobscot River

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon

Risks to Fishing 

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