Royal River Alliance is hosting World Fish Migration Day May 21 in Yarmouth to bring 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 make a final assessment of the Royal River in Yarmouth this summer and submit a report to the town in early fall about the viability and cost of removing two dams.

The Bridge Street Dam and the Elm Street Dam, which are owned by the town of Yarmouth, have impacted the migratory pattern for alewives, a type of herring on which lobster feed, according to Art Bell of the Royal River Alliance. A lack of the feeder fish in Casco Bay, which the Royal River empties into, has driven many local lobstermen to use pogies, another type of herring, according to Bell.

The alliance will host a World Fish Migration Day event May 21 at Royal River Park to bring attention to the issue and the need for the dam removal.

“We’re going to (bring back alewives) by removing the dams,” Bell said. “It’s called fish passage; letting fish be able to swim up.”

Restoring the alewife population would also help restore the natural cycle of the river. Fish stir up nutrients when they migrate upriver to spawn and die, which also creates a food source for other wildlife, according to Yarmouth Councilor David Craig.

Craig said removing the dams is far less expensive than building ladders to allow fish to bypass them.


“The town share of this will be minimal, we’re hoping. There’s a cost-sharing element, where the federal government may pick up most, if not all of the cost,” he said.

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

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

The town has already spent about $70,000 of its portion of the cost sharing during the planning stages, according to Craig. The Army Corps of Engineers did 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 providing power and water access to a number of lumber and paper mills, fish- and poultry-processing plants, potteries and tanneries that no longer exist. Town 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 about the benefits of removing the two manmade barriers.


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

“We’re trying to draw attention to the fact that the river isn’t healthy and there’s a reason why it’s not healthy. We think we can remedy that,” Bell said.

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

The biennial global event brings awareness to decreasing river health and how it negatively impacts fish migration. This will be the first time the event has been hosted in Yarmouth since the COVID-19 pandemic. More information about the Alliance and World Fish Migration Day can be found at

“It’s very family-friendly. Everyone will have something to do,” Bell said. “It’s also about education and advocacy; we’re trying to send a message here that we want to take action.

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

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