Penobscot Gaining Special Watershed Status

Penobscot Gains Status as Habitat Focus Area
May 5, 2014

Today, NOAA announces the selection of two sites in the North Atlantic as the next Habitat Focus Areas under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint. The Penobscot River watershed in Maine and the Choptank River system in Maryland were selected from 19 possible candidates.  They will provide an opportunity for NOAA to maximize our habitat conservation investments to benefit marine resources and coastal communities.  

The Penobscot River is New England’s second largest river. It is home to 11 migratory fish species, including three listed under the Endangered Species Act, and represents the largest run of Atlantic salmon left in the United States.  Even though the watershed is not highly populated, like many eastern rivers, dams, culverts, water pollution and overfishing have had a serious impact on fish populations.  We have restoration and conservation projects underway to bolster populations of alewife, blueback herring and Atlantic salmon. As a Habitat Focus Area, NOAA and partners will develop a strategic plan identifying the highest priority fish passage needs and a communications plan to explain the benefits of dam removal to the public.

The Choptank is the largest river on the Delmarva Peninsula and empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The river system is home to oyster, menhaden, river herring and shads, prey for commercially and recreationally important species like striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and predatory birds such as osprey and eagles.  Population growth and land development threaten traditional working waterfronts and natural shorelines and contribute to marsh loss and runoff.

NOAA has already made a substantial commitment to protecting and restoring this watershed, supporting various projects to restore oyster habitat and increase fish passage.   Three tributaries have already been selected for intensive oyster restoration under state and federal plans.  These activities will help achieve the Blueprint objectives, and the existing baseline monitoring data and performance measures will be used to track success.

The Habitat Blueprint is NOAA’s strategy to integrate habitat conservation throughout the agency, focus efforts in priority areas, and leverage internal and external collaborations to achieve measurable benefits within key habitats such as rivers, coral reefs, and wetlands. Under the Habitat Blueprint, NOAA selects certain Habitat Focus Areas to prioritize long-term habitat science and conservation efforts.

The goals in all Habitat Focus Areas include:
•    Sustainable and abundant fish populations
•    Recovered threatened and endangered species
•    Protected coastal and marine areas and habitats at risk
•    Resilient coastal communities          
•    Increased coastal/marine tourism, access, and recreation

NOAA has already identified Habitat Focus Areas in California’s Russian River watershed, the Pacific Island’s Guam and West Hawaii sites, and the Great Lakes’ Muskegon Lake and the St. Louis River estuary .  In some of these areas we are already seeing results in recovering threatened and endangered species, improving rainfall, flooding, and frost forecasts, and increasing community resiliency to flood damage.


Lou Chiarella
Assistant Regional Administrator for Habitat Conservation
NOAA Fisheries, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office
Co-lead, North Atlantic Habitat Blueprint Focus Area Selection Team
Email: Lou.Chiarella@noaa.gov
Phone: (978) 281-9277

Craig MacDonald
Superintendent, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
NOAA’s National Ocean Service
Co-lead,  North Atlantic Habitat Blueprint Focus Area Selection Team
Email: Craig.Macdonald@noaa.gov
Phone: (781) 545-8026 x202