The Fishery Resources

of the Kennebec River





Economics of the Kennebec Fishery

Fishery Resources



It's a warm July evening. An angler stands casting in a 20-foot canoe just below the Augusta dam on the Kennebec River. Mist from the falling water coming over the top of the dam swirls by him creating mini rainbows. Swallows dart by low overhead.

The angler makes a cast to a spot where two currents meet. His fly sinks into the tannin-stained depths and he begins a rapid retrieve. He recovers about ten feet of line and there is a sudden, heavy pull. Reflexes engage and he raises his arm to set the hook. Twenty yards downstream a smallmouth bass flings itself skyward. The battle is on. . . .

Increasing numbers of fishermen troll, cast and still-fish the Kennebec River for black bass, stripers, smelt, brown trout and, occasionally, Atlantic salmon. Legislators, administrators and just plain citizens are being called upon to make decisions affecting the future of the river with scant knowledge of the real extent to which the Kennebec River has rebounded from its former condition as an open sewer.

Over the past three decades, sportsmen and biologists, whose interests and work bring them in close touch with the Kennebec River, have witnessed remarkable changes in the river. For those of us who simply drive along or across the river, the change is not as obvious.

This book represents efforts of the Kennebec River Council to bring together information of assistance in making decisions regarding the future of the river. It describes the changes that have taken place in the river and the river's great potential for serving recreational and other uses.




Early in the process of studying the lower Kennebec River for the purpose of compiling this report about its fishery resources, we learned there is one central--and surprising--problem facing all current users of the river.

The Kennebec River is clean.Look back a decade and a half ago and you'll discover the problem was entirely different. Until recently the central problem of the Kennebec River was that it was dirty. When the river reeked and boiled with industrial and municipal effluvium, there was little conflicting demand for it as a natural resource. Hardly anyone boated or fished on the river and swimming was out of the question. Communities along the lower Kennebec turned their backs, decidedly ignoring the river's presence unless large-scale fish kills or other odorous events occurred.

The decades of the 60's and 70's brought an age of environmental awareness and eventually a willingness to devote dollars to cleanup of our nation's rivers. Among the rivers which got huge infusions of tax dollars to create sewage treatment plants was the Kennebec and this--along with changes in paper-making technology--resulted in rapid cleanup of the Kennebec in the early 1980's.

It didn't take people of the area long to rediscover "their" river once it was clean. Perhaps no event so symbolizes this change as the mid-summer Great Kennebec Whatever Race which brings people by the thousands to, on and near the river as part of a celebration of its cleanliness.

Even a cursory look at the river will show that today there are many potentially conflicting uses in various stages of development. One of these key developments is the fishery resource. This is an especially sensitive area of development because almost any other use of the river will have a profound effect on the nature and scope of the fishery.

The purpose of this report is to educate the public about the nature of the Kennebec River's fishery resources. In order to do that, we have looked at the resource from three perspectives, the past, the present, and the future.


In looking at the past we discover the lower Kennebec was an extraordinary fertile resource for the production of anadromous and catadromous fish species. It is quite safe to say that because its enormous freshwater tidal bay--Merrymeeting Bay--makes the Kennebec River unique among rivers in the Northeast. Historic fish runs on the Kennebec were immense but they were snuffed out by a combination of dams and pollution.

Today we find a river that is recovering in terms of its fishery resource. There are extensive plans for re-establishing various fish species in the lower river, but there are many obstacles which can slow or block this process.

Looking to the future it is easy to envision Kennebec River fisheries as a major part of the region's economic development. The potential for extensive recreational and commercial fisheries which could add millions of dollars annually to the local economy is clearly pointed to both by the historic record and present trend.

Naturally such development carries a price. For example, developments which reduce water quality will have a negative effect on fish restoration. Such developments would have to be forgone to achieve maximum fish runs. Dams without fish passage, or even too many dams blocking migratory routes, greatly reduce or eliminate fish runs, and so must be considered against the benefits to be gained from the fish runs.

The problem, as those of us who have studied the subject of Kennebec River fisheries have discovered, is that the public has almost no information available in order to make decisions about what sort of development should take place on the new, cleaner Kennebec. There was a consensus that we are on the threshold of a new era for the Kennebec River and that decisions made in the near future will have a major effect on what the nature of the river will be for many decades to come.

It is the purpose of this report to acquaint people with the value of one of the Kennebec's most significant resources, its fisheries. While the report doesn't examine every aspect of that resource, an attempt was made to give the reader a broad understanding of what has been, is and could be available.

In order to make the project manageable, it was decided to focus the study on the Kennebec from Waterville to Chop's Point at the bottom of Merrymeeting Bay. The authors are very much aware, however, that a river is a complete system from its headwaters to its conclusion at the sea. Any major changes in the Kennebec above Waterville or below the Chops is bound to have a major impact on the nature of the fishery.


Harry Vanderweide, Chairman of the Study

Ira L. Ellis, Cooperative Extension Service, Planning & Organizational Consultant



This study of lower Kennebec River fisheries is not a lengthy document, but does reflect a wide range of knowledge and interests, both academic and applied. It was decided early on to seek as many knowledgeable people as possible to help with the work. It is a tribute to the significance of the Kennebec River to this area that the work involved 29 individuals and seven agencies or organizations.


Research and writing of this document was a joint effort of the Natural Resources and Education Committees of the Kennebec River Council. Permanent members of those committees and authors of this report are: David Courtemanche, Mike Burnett, Eugene Dumont, Ira Ellis, Lewis Flagg,Sherman Hasbrouck, Sandy Lovett, Jon Lund, Dennis McNeish, Amy Naylor, Ivy Norton, Malcolm Smith, Thomas Squiers, Peter Thompson and Harry Vanderweide.


While this work is a product of the Kennebec River Council, the following organizations were involved in providing resources of varying types: Southern Kennebec Planning and Development Council, Maine State Museum, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine State Planning Office, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

The authors would like to thank the following individuals for their help in researching this report: Marshall Burke, Karen Massey, Terry McGovern, Harold Prins and Matt Scott.

Support for the work done by the committees also was provided by Ed Churchill, Eben Elwell, Polly Roberts, Art Speiss and Jeff Zimmerman.

Without the support of the Kennebec Office of the Cooperative Extension Service the Kennebec River Council would not have been able to bring together the people who wrote this report. Through the offices of Extension Agent Ira Ellis many important resources were made available to compile this information. These resources included virtually everything from offering direction on how to organize to providing a place for meetings. Extension secretary Elaine Dolley is to be thanked for her work on keypunching the manuscript for this report. Dr. Raymond Taylor, Superintendent of Augusta Public Schools, is thanked for providing printing services through the students of Cony High School.

Officers of the Kennebec River Council:

President, Jon Lund;

Vice President, Peter Thompson;

Secretary, Harry Vanderweide.

Directors: Ian MacKinnon, Amy Naylor, Dennis McNeish, Mike Burnett, Ivy Norton.


Artwork in this report was provided by Peter Thompson.

Maps courtesy of Maine department of Marine Resources

The authors would like to thank the following individuals for their help in researching this report: Marshall Burke, Karen Massey, Terry McGovern, Harold Prins and Matt Scott. Support for the work done by the committees also was provided by Ed Churchill, Eben Elwell, Polly Roberts, Art Speiss and Jeff Zimmermam

Without the support of the Kennebec Office of the Cooperative Extension Service the Kennebec River Council would not have been able to bring together the people who wrote this report. Through the offices of Extension Agent Ira Ellis many important resources were made available to compile this information. These resources included virtually everything from offering direction on how to organize to providing a place for meetings. Extension secretary Elaine Dolley is to be thanked for her work on keypunching the manuscript for this report.



Richmond to Augusta

Fiddler Reach to Augusta

Cape Small to
Fiddler Reach




The decline of industrial uses and successful pollution abatement efforts have led to a resurgence of recreational activity on the Kennebec River. The improved water quality of the river has encouraged the construction of new municipal boat landings at Sidney, Augusta, Chelsea, Hallowell, Gardiner, Richmond, Bowdoinham and Bath that in turn have enabled a tremendous increase in the volume of recreational fishing. In this brief report, an attempt will be made to estimate the current economic impact of recreational fishing on the lower Kennebec River and to project its future dollar value, assuming the impoundment area above the dam at Augusta becomes accessible to local and anadromous game fish.



The estimates of the economic impact of recreational fishing will be confined to the tidal portion of the river - Augusta to Fort Popham. Projections for the future potential of the river will include the segment between Augusta and Waterville. Because the Kennebec has only recently begun to attract significant numbers of anglers, there is little information available concerning its usage. Consequently, it is necessary to combine what data are available with survey information based on recreational fishing in Maine as a whole and several regional fisheries about which more is known. To this end the following assumptions will hold:



Current Economic Impact

During the summer of 1984, a study of the Kennebec River was conducted by the Maine Department of Conservation (DOC). That study indicated that approximately 48,000 user days were devoted annually to fishing. This figure represents the total number of days spent fishing by all anglers. The DOC report does not include estimates of the total number of individual anglers. It is possible to estimate this number by using data from a 1980 survey for the state of Maine conducted by the U.S. Department of Interior. That study estimated that, on average, an angler in Maine went fishing thirteen days during the year. Assuming that figure holds true for 1984, we can divide the DOC estimate of 48,000 user days by thirteen and arrive at an estimate of the total number of anglers.

48,000/13 = 3,692

The 1980 study also estimated that each angler spent $137 on freshwater fishing during the year. Expenses include the purchase of fishing-related equipment plus transportation. It can be argued that because of its accessibility, expenditures on transportation and lodging are not as significant for the Kennebec fishing as they are for more remote fishing areas and thus the above figure overstates the actual annual expenditures for the Kennebec. At the same time, because it is tidal and not subject to limitations on ice fishing which exist in the rest of the state, the Kennebec has a well-established winter smelt fishery. Because of the need for specialized equipment and shack rentals, it may be that reduced expenditures on lodging and transportation are offset by the relatively higher expenditures on the winter fishery. In the absence of specific cost comparisons, it is assumed the 1980 figure of $137 per angler is appropriate for the Kennebec River. Finally, to be consistent with the 1984 study year, the annual expenditure figure can be adjusted for inflation to $173 per angler.

Thus, the direct impact of fishing for the Kennebec River Valley can be estimated by assuming that approximately 3,692 anglers spent $173 each during 1984. Or

3,692 x 173 = $638,716;



The economic impact of recreational fishing for the current time period was limited to the lower Kennebec (below the Edwards Dam). The growth in recent years of recreational fishing for that river segment has been fueled by abundant supplies of traditional Maine game fish, primarily black bass, trout, pickerel and striped bass. The growth of recreational fishing on this segment of the Kennebec is relatively recent, and it can be assumed that the river's full potential has only just begun to develop. The most reasonable way to estimate the impact of this fishing in the future is to assume that user days over the next six years will grow at the same rate as state-wide user days grew during the past six years. This growth figure, 11%, has been provided by a 1983 survey conducted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Thus, all other things being constant, total user days can reasonably be expected to rise to 53,280 and the total number of anglers to increase to roughly 4,100. Using the 1984 expenditure of $173, this growth would yield:

4,100 x $173 = $709,300;

The full potential of the Kennebec River cannot be considered unless the anadromous fish species are included. Historically, Atlantic salmon, brown trout, striped bass, alewives, smelt and shad have traveled upriver to spawn. The construction of dams at various points along the river during the 19th century has halted upriver movement of these fish, and they are now found only in isolated locations below Augusta. Access to the waters above Augusta will mean a Kennebec fishery that will grow qualitatively. There are two possibilities for a qualitatively different fishery: (1) the construction of a fishway at Augusta and (2) the eventual removal of the dam at Augusta.

An Augusta Fishway;

A fishway at Augusta will enable the impoundment area between Augusta and Waterville, roughly seventeen miles long, to be developed as a recreational fishing area. Atlantic salmon, smelt, shad, alewives and sea run brown trout will utilize a fishway. With the exception of alewives, all are important game species in Maine. State efforts to expand these species in the Kennebec over the next ten years would make the Kennebec one of the premier fisheries in the region.

A precise estimate of the value of this fishery is impossible, but it is reasonable to assume that a Waterville to Bath freshwater fishery would at least double the current usage of the Augusta-Bath segment. The presence of smelt would encourage a winter fishery and thus, doubling the user day estimates of the DOC study cited earlier would be appropriate. Thus, if this fishery were available today, we would expect that roughly 96,000 annual user days would be expended and that approximately 8,200 anglers would fish over the course of the year. In current dollars, the annual impact would be:

8,200 x $173 = $1,418,000


Atlantic Salmon Restoration

Even very conservative estimates of the impact of an expanded Kennebec River fishery demonstrate the economic development potential of recreational fishing resulting from the presence of a development of this fishery; however, because some species such as striped bass will not utilize a fishway and more significantly, the depth of the impoundment area precludes the development of an Atlantic salmon fishery.

This final section will present an estimate of the impact of a fully developed Atlantic salmon fishery. The most straight-forward method of estimating this impact is to assume that it will develop and be utilized along the same lines as the Penobscot River Atlantic salmon fishery located between Bangor and Veazie. Data are taken from a 1982 survey conducted by the Atlantic Sea Run Salmon Commission.

The survey indicates that between 8,484 and 21,218 angler trips were made during that year. No information is available regarding expenditures, but the 1980 U.S. Department of the Interior survey estimated that Maine anglers spent approximately $17 per trip when fishing for all species. The inflation adjusted figure for 1984 is $21. Thus, the Penobscot fishery yielded between $178,164 and $445,578 during the May to October Atlantic salmon season.

An Atlantic salmon fishery is limited only by its capacity since they are intensively utilized when they are in season. If the Augusta dam were removed and the water depth between Waterville and Augusta dropped to its natural level, an estimated ten miles of water suitable for salmon fishing would become available. Since there are approximately 1.5 miles of suitable fishing water on the Penobscot River, a Kennebec River salmon fishery would be roughly seven times larger. This would yield, all other things being equal, between $1.2 and $3 million.



This report has attempted to estimate the current and potential economic impact of the Kennebec River fishery. Due to the lack of consistent data concerning river utilization and angler expenditures, estimates were kept conservative. For example, it was assumed that angler effort would double if the fishery was extended to Waterville. This is probably low since the development of a fishery for the sea run species of fish would attract many non-region and out-of-state anglers. The scarcity of data also limited the scope of the analysis to direct expenditures only; the indirect or multiplier effects are undoubtedly substantial. Finally, the analysis excluded the impact of commercial fishing. Commercial fishing is growing, especially for smelt, and it is certain that the introduction of smelts, shad and alewives in the impoundment waters would lead to increased commercial usage.

The estimates for recreational fishing are summarized below:


Current $ 638,716

Future (next 10 years)

with fishway 1,418,000

without dam 3,000,000

TOTAL $4,418,000

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