AUBURN – Area legislators have joined an effort to make hydroelectric dams along the Androscoggin River safe for eels.

Ed Friedman, chairman of the Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, said his group has filed a petition with state Board of Environmental Protection urging it to force 16 Androscoggin River dam owners and operators to make their operations safe for migrating eels.

The petition has 60 signatures, including about a dozen state legislators. The group held a press conference Thursday with Rep. Elaine Makas, D-Lewiston, overlooking the Great Falls in Auburn.

American eels spawn once in their lives and in only one place, the Sargasso Sea. That’s a part of the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda. Once spawned, many migrate up along the U.S. coastline. They migrate up rivers, including those in Maine. They can live up to 50 years, but must return to the same place in the Atlantic Ocean to spawn.

Friedman said many of the adults that have made their way into Maine are killed by the hydroelectric turbines in the dams along Maine rivers as the migrate back to the ocean.

“That means those adults will never spawn; they’ll never breed,” he said. The species is not considered endangered, but Friedman said that could change.

Dam owners can solve the problem by screening the turbines with metal plates, according to Kathleen McGee, a member of the group. The screens cost about $2,500, she said.

“I think the companies will end up paying more to fight this in the courts than they will to fix the problem,” McGee said.

The DEP accepted a similar petition for Kennebec River dams last winter.

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