Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 14, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, June 14, 2018
Alewife runs double from last year
New fishways bring big numbers
Bailey Bowden, chairman of the Penobscot Town Alewife Committee, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust Senior Project Manager Ciona Ulbrich enjoy the culmination of several years’ work.
by Anne Berleant
A years-long effort to bring back the alewives in local streams and ponds found a large measure of success in 2018, with some fish runs doubling the number of alewives swimming from sea into their spawning waters.
A celebration at Pierce Pond on a windy, sun-filled June 2 brought the partnering communities together, along with people just interested in what all the fuss was about. Counting demonstrations and fishway tours were also scheduled at Parker Pond and Walker Pond later in the afternoon.
“It’s fantastic to see the community support,” said Ben Matthews, a watershed restoration specialist with The Nature Conservancy, one of the major funders of the fishway projects. “The ecological impact of this is off the charts.”
New stone weir-and-ladder fishways were constructed at Pierce and Wight ponds last year, and in 2016, funded by the Maine Department of Marine Resources and Gulf of Maine Council, at Patten Pond in Surry.
At the Walker Pond and Parker Pond fishways, and at Snow Brook in Sedgwick, Matthews is working on a feasibility study for widening the fishways, which have become obstructed over time.
The interest of large-scale conservation nonprofits and federal agencies is a direct result of the work of Bailey Bowden, chairman of the Penobscot Alewife Committee, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust senior project manager Ciona Ulbrich.
“If we are able to restore sustainable fish passage to those three ponds (Frost, Parker and Walker), we will have freed the entire Bagaduce River Watershed for fish passage. That will be an exciting achievement,” said Ulbrich, who garnered over $300,000 for the Penobscot fishways in grants from The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and The Nature Conservancy, complemented by donations and grants from private individuals, Maine Sea Grant, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Blue Hill Heritage Trust is partnering on community outreach and education and helped with site work planning and the educational areas at Pierce Pond.
On the side of policy and fishery management, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries scientist and leadership advisor Mike Thalhauser is working with local towns on growing and managing the fishery.
“When you have 300,000 to one million fish swimming up into a fishing community, it makes sense,” Thalhauser said.
“[Thalhauser’s] efforts really complement what Bailey and I do,” she said.
Bowden, a fisherman, began working to bring back the commercial alewife fishery in Penobscot in 2012. He formed and chaired a local committee, and corralled volunteers to count the fish during runs, by hand and by dip-net, to establish the continuous years of data required by the state before it would turn over the fishery to Penobscot. The state had suspended the town’s rights in 2011 because of a lack of reporting.
Bowden and the Penobscot Town Alewife Committee remain at the forefront, as more and more organizations become involved.
“This is the culmination of everything,” he said. “I started it because I couldn’t go fishing. Now, I don’t have the time.”
A place to learn, and enjoy
As part of the Peirce Pond fishway project, the entry and parking area has been widened and cleared, poison ivy plants eradicated, and informational signs placed, along with picnic tables and a sturdy fence to lean on while looking down at the fishway. Many local volunteers donated time and services towards improving the area.
On the day of the celebration, most of the alewives had already made their way through the Pierce Pond run, but small schools sporadically appeared to the delight of those watching.
Samples of perfectly smoked alewives were on hand for the dozens of people who came during the celebration.
“It’s good,” Blue Hill resident Beth Dickens said, with a slight note of surprise. “I could eat this again.”
More and more fish
Alewives can be smoked and eaten, but are also popular with lobstermen to bait their traps—if there are enough of them. The 61,000 alewives that passed into Wight’s Pond this spring is twice as much as last year, while in Pierce Pond, 45,000 alewives migrated, a big spike from last year. Walker Pond also doubled its amount of fish this year, with counts estimating the number at about 350,000.
In Surry, the number of fish migrating through the reconstructed culvert on Route 172 has tripled, with fish still coming, to nearly 20,000—far less than the 250,000 run that once existed but significant compared to when Susan Hand Shetterly and Norm Mrozicki formed the Surry Alewife Committee over seven years ago.
Each spring, volunteers help count the alewives on their runs, so towns can report numbers to Maine DMR.
“Before the [fishway], people would be just picking them up and throwing them [upstream],” said Surry fishway volunteer Sally MacDowell. “It’s so much fun, the excitement of seeing the fish come up from the sea. Here they are, these funny alewives.”