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Tributaries Episode 6: Interview with Dwayne Shaw: FISHWAYS

Listen to this episode on the Tributaries Podcast:

Dwayne Shaw of the Downeast Salmon Federation discusses the history of damns and fishways going back to the Magna Carta. When asked what single change he would make to positively impact sea run fisheries, his response: The Law.

Read the Transcript Below:

Dwayne Shaw

Hi. I am Dwayne Shaw, I'm executive director of Downeast Salmon Federation, and that's based here in Washington County, Eastern most Maine.

The organization's 40 years old, 41 years old this year started by local anglers primarily and focused on wild Atlantic salmon, but also other sea run fish.

Rachel Bell

If you could change one thing to positively impact sea run fisheries, what would it be?

Dwayne Shaw

The law. So it would have to be really one very simple change in the law, and that would be any dam owner puts a fishway in it and it will be a fishway that works, or you remove the dam. And that, just that, was the law in the past.

But during the industrial Revolution, it got changed. And, you know, it was relinquished down to local authorities, and those local authorities had, conflicts of interests and we needed the dams and the power and so on. So that's what happened. But, yeah, so that very simple law change would make a tremendous difference.

It would not be without a lot of pain and suffering for a lot of people who have to then pay for those fishways, but the fish are more valuable than the other things that we're gaining from impounding all the water, right?  

Rachel Bell

Which is interesting 'cause that was a message by the Commissioner of Fisheries back in the 1800's,  that the fish are more valuable than the value of all the lumber in the state.

Dwayne Shaw

Exactly. Yep. And so it was well known and I think that many people knew that, including many tribal folks and people fought over it. You know, that was, the very first I call it, and I believe it truly is, the first environmental battle on the soil of this continent was with the early pilgrims and puritans.

When they started to build the very first dams in the 1600's, they fought immediately over whether they were gonna put fish away in or not. And those same battles continue to this day. Just outside the window here is a dam without a fishway. And I'll talk more about that in a second because it has a really interesting history.

So way back when in European law, the Magna Carta, which is the basis of western law, said, you build a dam, you put a fishway in it. So I think that's the 1300's. So it's pretty simple principle. It's absolute insanity to do what we've done and you know, it was proven many places that you could have your mill and your fish too, but it was easy not to maintain that continuity. And that's what happened here on the Cobscook River or the Orange River, it was the subject of a big experiment in the 1800's, right after the first US Fish Commission was started. This was the site of it, just 50 yards from where we're sitting, and it was an experiment: can you make a fishway work? 'Cause there was a lot of debate over that. And they built one and it worked and, and then when the mill went bankrupt, or was eventually abandoned, the fishway was abandoned too. And so for a hundred plus years we had a very effective fishway and recovered fish in a river that had been destroyed here in the town of Whiting.

And so that's why we bought the dam was to make a change happen one way or another, and I think we're gonna get that. It would be 4 million dollars, but we're gonna have our dam and our fish too.

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