It has been all the talk the past number of years, and certainly ramping up in our home state of Michigan...dam removals.
We are not going to walk out of here with a solution, and certainly not one that appeals to everyone. There will be losers in this debate, and unfortunately for some there will be big losses if dams are in fact removed.
I am not going to get into the "how we got here" discussion other than to say most hydro dams, at least in Michigan, are failing or at the point of failing. There is so much cost to keep them safely operating, and from what we hear, not enough profit to justify the expense. It's a business decision on the part of utility companies. Sure, there is alot of "let's build solar and wind farms instead" push behind this, and that is an entirely different discussion. But as far as dams go, and as far as we are concerned, they should be removed.
This is our personal opinion, and in some cases it will negatively affect our business, and some of our dealers' businesses...but in the end, we nor anyone else can stop this ship from moving forward.
The downsides are clear for removing dams. Dams create barriers that congregate spawning fish at a single location that provides tremendously easy access to a fishery that typically would not be available to those without a boat. Surrounding these locations are usually a tackle shop or several tackle shops that provide convenient access to gear and knowledge to anyone looking to participate in that fishery. It's a huge win, for the tackle shops and the anglers. We have no issue with this and think it will be a tremendous loss of opportunity (at least initially) to everyone who accesses these fisheries in these locations.
Another huge downside that is particular to our fisheries here in the Great Lakes is sea lamprey control. These dams provide a barrier to prevent sea lamprey from migrating further upstream to ideal spawning grounds. Increase in sea lamprey populations are a huge problem to anadromous fish we like to fish. Chemical treatments of many more small streams and creeks will have to be undertaken, at a huge cost to fisheries management budgets, in order to account for this new access to habitat by these invaders. It is not inexpensive to do these annual treatments, and without them, our anadromous species will suffer greatly.
Trout fishermen who have great access to unmolested populations of browns, brookies and rainbows might also get a little bent when 20lb salmon and steelhead come cruising through pristine trout waters...but I bet those local trout will love to feast on the eggs of those spawning fish as well. That is a great source of food for those populations and they will likely see an increase in size and abundance of those trout.
And finally, sediment control. Many of these impoundments are filled with decades upon decades of sediment. If not properly and completely removed, this sediment will forever cover prime downstream gravel spawning locations.
With that said, we get the "doesn't justify the expense" side of the equation on the behalf of utility companies as well. How long can they go on without making a profit on these dams? They own them, pay for their upkeep, have to keep them safe...and provide in many cases very little power to their local communities. Not to mention, albeit an isolated case, the safety of crews that are required to maintain these dams. We had a Consumers employee, a diver, young guy married with kids, die a year ago here near our local dam....working on repairs to the facility. Drowned..he was an experienced diver. A very sad situation.
A cliche, but at the end of the day, it's time to take them out. We see many benefits to the fishery as a whole with dam removal. First, the increase in available spawning habitat will be immense. Dozens if not hundreds of miles of newly accessible spawning habitat will now be available to our anadromous species. That is a huge win!
Not only will our fish be able to travel further upstream, so will we as anglers. This will open up significantly MORE access to fishing, rather than stunting it and congregating it in only lower regions of our rivers. Think about all of the accessible fishing water many of us will now have access to in locations upstream. This will significantly reduce congregated fishing pressure, allowing fish and anglers to "spread out" and not incessantly pound the same runs of fish over and over again. The fish, due to lower fishing congregation "pressure" might actually end up being more "bitey" without all of that tackle and gear being thrown at them in the same spot for weeks on end.
While small boat anglers will benefit, those with jet outboards, rafts and kayaks....so will walk in anglers. There are plenty of public land accesses further upstream that currently do not have runs of anadromous fish because of dam blockage. Now you just might be able to find a spot that "no one fishes".
The west coast has struggled with this for years, and it appears they are finally seeing some movement on dam removals, allowing salmon and steelhead to migrate upstream to their native spawning grounds. Their fisheries are under so much pressure from anglers, commercial fishermen, and predators...they need anything they can get their hands on to improve spawning populations of fish. Dam removals can only help.
It's a difficult topic for sure, there will be big losses without question, but again....it's time. Getting our rivers and streams back to as close as what they were originally can only benefit us as fishermen, and the fish themselves. I am not a tree hugger per se, and don't feel its all about trying to get the genie back in the bottle and make the environment like it was hundreds of years ago. That's not my take at all. It's ultimately about the fish, and their survival, and our opportunity to target them.
That's why we are here right? That's why you are reading this...you are a fisherman, and presumably concerned about our fishery. Why wouldn't we want to do everything we can that's best for the fish we target, instead of just making it the easiest we can on ourselves by fishing at or below dams?
Tough question, we'll see how it plays out. But if I had to bet, they will be taken down eventually, and we will all have to adjust...including the fish.