To Dam or Not to Dam Part One
by: Mike Lushington  

For the past several years, discussions have been held concerning the fate of the Eel River Dam. I would like to devote the next several columns to what I hope will be a reasonably balanced discussion on what that fate should be.

To begin with, I would like to reflect on what Eel River was like before the dam was built in the early 1960's. That was before my time here, so, by necessity, my impressions are anecdotal: recollections by people who remember the river back then.

Recently, I had reason to query several acquaintances on the topic. Several of them recalled hunting in the Eel River Marsh as teenagers. I remember two of them - in separate communications - talking about taking their shotguns into the marsh after school and, as they both admitted, despite their being poor shots, managing to shoot their bag limits regularly. They remember seeing large numbers of American black duck, teal, several species of sea duck (presumably Common goldeneyes and perhaps Ring-necked ducks), Canada geese, Wilson's snipe, and American woodcock. They recalled flocks in the hundreds throughout the fall, all up and down the marsh.

Others wanted to talk primarily about the fishing. Apparently Eel River had a very nice little salmon run back in those days and I can actually recall the last remnants of a sea trout run that persisted up into the early 1970's. Smelt and eels (of course) were present in large numbers at the right time of year, and the clam fishing at Eel River Bar was exceptional. Clams continued to be harvested until the fishery was closed, a number of years after we moved up this way.

For the most part, people were not nearly as interested in listing species back then as we are today, so it is sometimes difficult to estimate just how many other species of bird or fish may have frequented the marsh and river ecosystem, but, form all accounts, it was a rich and diversified one. Certainly there were Osprey, although that population had been decimated by DDT some years before. The marsh, which has been described by knowledgeable naturalists as "the biggest cattail marsh in northern New Brunswick", would certainly have been home to herons, bitterns, different species of small shorebirds, blackbirds, warblers, and perhaps rails. There were muskrat, mink, otter, beaver, possibly fisher, and a diversified range of small rodents. Moose and foxes, hawks and owls, patrolled the edges,and found their livelihood there.

From everything that I can see, Eel River was not a large river, perhaps not even on the scale of one of the branches of the Charlo River. But it a swiftly flowing one, at least in spring and during times of high run-off. It certainly was fast enough to maintain its channel and to flush out sediment that would otherwise have smothered those clam beds. In talking to those who remember it well, I get the distinct impression that it was a very special place, one that reflected well the abundance of wildlife here back in a time when most people could not imagine its ever being lost or so badly compromised as it often seems to be today.

Next week, I will take a look at the river as it is today.


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