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Upstream Watch Launches Penobscot Bay Waterkeeper

For the past six years, Upstream Watch has been largely focused on opposing Nordic Aquafarms and their factory fish farm proposal in Belfast. While this will remain our main priority until Nordic leaves town, we have been considering the organization’s future role in protecting and advocating for the waters of this region. 

To that end, we are thrilled to share the launch of Penobscot Bay Waterkeeper.

View of Stockton Harbor and Penobscot Bay. Photo captured during Lighthawk Flight.


Penobscot Bay hosts some of Maine’s most significant coastal wildlife habitat, its waters support a diverse fishing industry and its scenic beauty makes it a destination for tourists and locals alike. The Bay, the rivers that drain into the Bay, and the communities that rely on these waters face mounting threats though, the most urgent among these being climate change. The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world, and the impacts of climate change are already visible.


Through our efforts against Nordic Aquafarms, Upstream Watch has learned that Maine’s local and state, as well as federal environmental agencies and permitting processes are not doing enough to adequately protect people or the environment from these threats. Both new development proposals and industries, as well as legacy industrial pollution, threaten water quality in Penobscot Bay and the entire watershed. These proposals and industries must be closely scrutinized, evaluated, and when necessary, opposed.


Penobscot Bay Waterkeeper will protect and advocate for the health of the Bay and the rivers that feed into her through pollution investigations, demanding better enforcement of existing environmental regulations and permits, and educating the public about issues of concern and the importance of protecting these waters. This program will be guided by science, and informed by current and legacy pollution impacting the Bay, as well as concerns and needs identified by fishing people, tribal members, local governments, organizations, scientists, and members of the public throughout the watershed.

The Penobscot Bay Watershed

The West Branch of the Penobscot River rises near Penobscot Lake on the Maine/Quebec border and the East Branch of the Penobscot River begins at East Branch Pond near the headwaters of the Allagash River. The land that ultimately drains into Penobscot Bay includes the Penobscot River, Bagaduce River, Passagassawakeag River, Weskeag River, Goose River, Ducktrap River, and Little River watersheds.


Penobscot Bay is 45+ miles wide at its mouth and 37 miles long, encompasses an estimated 1,070 square miles and includes approximately 1,700 islands, rock, and ledges. The entire Penobscot Bay watershed, including the Bay itself, totals just shy of 10,000 square miles.

Who are the WATERKEEPERS? 

A Waterkeeper serves as the local, on the ground advocate for a specific watershed pursuing the vision of “fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters.” Waterkeepers work towards this vision by conducting pollution investigations, collecting water quality data, organizing and educating the public, and bringing litigation to hold polluters and regulatory agencies accountable. 


The Waterkeeper movement was started on the Hudson River in 1966 by fishermen whose livelihoods were at stake after industrial pollution devastated the Hudson’s fisheries. These fishermen turned activists sparked the Hudson’s recovery and inspired others to launch Waterkeeper groups. Today, there are more than 300 Waterkeeper programs protecting more than 5.9 million square miles of rivers, lakes, and coastal watersheds on six continents. 


Upstream Watch recently received its license and official designation from Waterkeeper Alliance to operate as the Penobscot Bay Waterkeeper, joining this network of clean water advocates.


You’ll be hearing a lot more from us on the Penobscot Bay Waterkeeper program in the coming months, but for now we wanted to share with you our excitement and vision for the organization moving forward!

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