Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 13, 2017 and Island Ad-Vantages, July 13, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, July 13, 2017
Counting alewives takes dedicated volunteers
by Anne Berleant
Alewives, those small, herring-like fish that swim each spring into freshwater lakes and streams to spawn and then return to the ocean, often need help for their safe passage.
At Walker Pond, Gunnar and Kathy Lymburner have walked the banks of the stream identifying potential issues to ensure clear passage for the local alewife run. This year, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington helped them and other volunteers count the alewives there, and at Wight’s and Pierce ponds in Penobscot, used counters or dipnets over a 12-hour period each day of the run, which began May 1 and lasted about 30 days.
Just over 234,000 alewives made their way into the Walker Pond run, at a density of 192 alewives per acre, while over 40,000 alewives swam into Wight’s Pond, well over the 31,725 required by the Maine Department of Marine Resources to demonstrate sustainability and density. The number for the Pierce Pond run hasn’t been collated yet.
Local runs offer “a unique possibility of having fishermen involved in the research and management of their own resource,” Mike Thalhauser of MCCF said.
Alewives are popularly used as lobster bait—a camera sits at Wight’s Pond to discourage poaching—but the state closed the Penobscot alewife fishery in 2011 because of lack of reporting. Bailey Bowden, chairman of the Penobscot Shellfish Conservation Committee, wants it back, and he formed an alewife committee in 2015. He then brought in DMR scientist Claire Enterline to outline what was required to reopen the alewife fishery—five years of data that shows a self-sustaining population.
In 2016, he partnered with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration to bring in funds to design and build a natural fishway. Work begins on July 15. Bowden is quick to credit Ciona Ulbrich of MCHT for “making it all happen.”
At Walker Pond, the alewives return to the pond at a significantly smaller size than any other alewife run in Maine, for reasons that are still unknown, Thalhauser said. “They are unique enough that [Walker Pond] is the only place in the state you cannot take alewives.” The three towns, MCCF and other partners are trying to find out why.
Thalhauser came on board this year to count the Walker Pond run when “it became clear that the town of Brooksville wanted to do more.” He helped bring together Penobscot, Brooksville and Sedgwick, where Walker Pond also lies, in the alewife run count effort.
“The real story here is partnerships” between towns and organizations, Bowden acknowledged. “If you don’t have a real dedicated core of citizens to make sure passage is clear, the run is going to die.” He pointed to Surry, where a local committee successfully raised funds and grants for a stone weir fishway at Patten Stream.
Bowden stands on the wooden bridge that spans the narrow Winslow Stream as it opens into Wight’s Pond. “It’s a huge commitment.”