Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 5, 2015
One fish, two fish
Counting alewives is first step to re-establishing commercial harvest
by Anne Berleant
In an initial move towards regaining municipal control over the town’s alewife fishery, members of the newly formed Alewife Committee, selectmen and interested residents met with Claire Enterline, alewife monitoring specialist for the Maine Department of Marine Resources on February 26. The DMR suspended the town’s rights to commercially fish for alewives in 2011, due to lack of data reporting.
In order to re-establish those rights, Penobscot will need to show that the alewife runs are large enough, and the fish healthy enough, to support a commercial harvest. With four years of data required, the earliest the DMR could issue a license is 2019. “Every town that’s not harvesting is held to the same standard,” Enterline said in a follow-up telephone call.
Toby Wardwell is a founding member of the committee and attended the meeting. “I think it’s something we needed,” he said after Enterline’s presentation. “The more information we get, the more we can get people to help.”
Currently, a licensed fisherman may take up to 25 alewives daily for personal use. A town may be licensed for commercial harvesting, per the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Shad and River Herring Amendment, adopted in 2010 and supported by state statute, if it shows:
a self-sustaining alewife population that is not dependent upon stocking;
a total alewife count to equal or exceed 235 fish per surface acre; and
a high alewife survival rate and “good representation” of older alewives;
a high repeat spawning ratio.
“We consider both the alewife count and the biological health of the run,” Enterline explained in a follow-up email. “Separate from the count, we ask that scale samples be collected [from which] we get the age of the fish (which enables us to calculate mortality estimates), and the number of years it has spawned previously.”
For Penobscot, where each spring alewives make annual runs into Pierce’s Pond and Wight’s Pond, the runs must be counted to show it has a large enough population. For the 191-acre Wight’s Pond, the alewife run must be at least 44,885 before harvest. In Pierces Pond, which is 100 acres, the before-harvest run must be at least 25,850.
Next, scale samples must show that alewives are surviving, spawning and returning based on a sample of 100 alewives or about 0.3 percent of the run.
Bailey Bowden, who led the drive to form the Alewife Committee, noted that the sample size equals, in human population, four people in the town of Penobscot. “How can you make any judgment on the population of fish on such a small number?” he asked.
“We used to sample more, but it didn’t make a difference,” said Enterline. The testing method used by the DMR also shows how many samples are needed to gauge each criteria, she continued. “We met that threshold for each of our samples.”
The two Penobscot runs are heaviest at night, Bowden said, where he sees “seven or eight times the run” than during the day.
Enterline suggested volunteers could trap the fish at night with dip nets, “if you know there’s no poaching.” Manually counting the fish doesn’t work because “after they’ve been handled, they don’t want to move.”
All volunteer alewife counters must be licensed by the DMR, and the town is responsible for reporting the data to the DMR.
“I have a staff of four people,” Enterline said. “The towns need to take charge. We can’t do it.”