In this April 2, 2012 file photo, a 4-year-old Atlantic salmon is held at the National Fish Hatchery in Nashua, N.H. Credit: Jim Cole / AP

Federal energy regulators said the Kennebec River’s population of endangered Atlantic Salmon can be protected without removing four hydroelectric dams, leaving conservation groups dismayed by the finding.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week filed a draft environmental assessment in its consideration of the re-licensing of the Shawmut Dam in Benton.

That’s one of four Kennebec River dams owned by the Canada-based Brookfield Renewables — dams that a coalition of conservation groups claim individually and collectively threaten salmon recovery.

The regulators said the fish can be protected and brought back to a population of at least 2,000, even if the dam impoundments and turbine injure or kill as many as 4 percent of them. That’s a lower bar than both conservationists and Maine’s Department of Marine Resources have called for.

“It’s really bad. It’s incredibly bad,” said Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

He said the FERC assessment also failed to meet fish passage standards recommended by its sister agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“Both National Marine Services and the Department of Marine Resources recommended dam removal. FERC completely ignored that,” he said.

In a statement, a Brookfield spokesman said FERC’s proposed conditions are consistent with most of the company’s own recommendations, including the completion of a fish-lift at the Shawmut dam.

In its assessment, FERC said salmon and other sea-run fish would be adequately protected without removing any dams.

“Because, as discussed in this EA, protection, mitigation, and enhancement measures can be fashioned to support the recovery of diadromous fish in the basin and still provide for the generation of power, decommissioning is not a reasonable alternative to relicensing,” FERC wrote.

FERC will take public comments before issuing a final decision.

The NRCM’s Nick Bennet said he is hopeful that the National Marine Fisheries Service officials will assert their authority in the matter.

NMFS officials said Friday they were still reviewing FERC’s filings.

Watch more: