Royal River Dam removal plans move forward

The Royal River Alliance is holding World Fish Migration Day on May 21 in Yarmouth to draw attention to the health of the river and how removing two dams could benefit the local fish population. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

The Army Corps of Engineers will conduct a final assessment of the Royal River in Yarmouth this summer and submit a report to the city in early fall on the viability and cost of removing two dams.

The dams at Bridge Street and Elm Street, which are owned by the town of Yarmouth, have impacted the migratory pattern of alewife, a type of herring that lobsters feed on, according to Art Bell of the Royal River Alliance. A lack of feeder fish in Casco Bay, into which the Royal River empties, has caused many local lobsters to use pogies, another type of herring, Bell said.

The alliance will hold a World Fish Migration Day event on May 21 at the Royal River Park to draw attention to the problem and the need to remove the dam.

“We’re going to (bring back the alewife) by removing the dams,” Bell said. “It’s called the fish pass; let the fish be able to swim.

Restoring the gaspereau population would also restore the natural cycle of the river. Fish scavenge nutrients as they migrate upstream to spawn and die, which also creates a food source for other wildlife, according to Yarmouth Councilor David Craig.

Craig said removing dams is much less expensive than building ladders to allow fish to navigate around them.

“The city’s share will be minimal, we hope. There is a cost-sharing element, where the federal government can pick up most, if not all of the costs,” he said.

The federal match would be 75% and the local share would be 25%, according to Craig.

“Technical fish ladders cost millions of dollars, while dam removals are in the hundreds of thousands,” he said. “It’s important that people recognize that.”

The city has already spent about $70,000 of its share of the cost share during the planning stages, according to Craig. The Army Corps of Engineers conducted an assessment of the dams in 2020 and deemed the project “eligible for funding.”

The Royal River has been dammed since the 1700s, with the structures supplying electricity and water to a number of sawmills and paper mills, fish and poultry processing plants, potteries and tanneries which do not no longer exist. City officials have struggled for years to maintain the Bridge and Elm Street Dams that effectively turn 5 miles of the river into a narrow lake.

The Royal River Alliance advocacy group is reaching out to educate the public on the benefits of removing the two man-made barriers.

Bell helped start the alliance about 10 years ago after seeing on a fishing trip that the river was more like a pond, with a lack of fish and movement.

“We are trying to draw attention to the fact that the river is not healthy and that there is a reason why it is not healthy. We believe we can fix that,” Bell said.

The alliance hopes its World Fish Migration Day event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 at the park will draw attention to the issue, with a food truck, face painting, scavenger hunt for children, guided river walks, live music and educational speakers.

The bi-annual global event raises awareness of deteriorating river health and its negative impact on fish migration. This will be the first time the event has been held in Yarmouth since the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on the Alliance and World Fish Migration Day, go to

“It’s very family-oriented. Everyone will have something to do,” Bell said. “It’s also about education and advocacy; we are trying to send here the message that we want to act.

“What most people say is, ‘The river is fine with me. Why are you trying to fix something that isn’t broken? But the reality is that it’s a big deal,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to convince people of and I think we have a program here that’s going to do a good job of that.”

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