By: Anne Hayden, Program Manager, Sustainable Economies Program
More and more people are feeling the love for a little fish with a big impact, the alewife.
The Downeast Fisheries Partnership (DFP), coordinated by Manomet’s Anne Hayden, is making the case for alewife restoration in eastern Maine’s rivers and streams. These fish are commercially harvested and a local delicacy, but they are also the base of river and coastal food webs and a key component of the Partnership’s focus on restoring cod, haddock, and other species. The spectacle of adult alewives surging upstream each spring draws fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts (as well as osprey and other predators), but it is the return of millions of juvenile alewives back downstream to the sea that is important to the restoration of fish stocks.
Alewives have been greatly reduced from their historical abundance—by dams and other obstacles that prevent them from reaching their spawning grounds in upstream lakes and ponds. Progress to restore the species is proceeding river by river—and the pace is picking up.
Two new fishways will be installed this summer on the outlets of ponds feeding the Bagaduce River, which drains into Penobscot Bay. The work was fostered by the Partnership’s efforts to bring together those interested in alewife restoration including community leaders, fisheries managers, and harvesters. Two DFP partners, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries – along with The Nature Conservancy, which provided much of the funding, and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – have worked with Bailey Bowden, chair of the local alewife management committee, and other organizations on the planning, research, monitoring and fund raising that were required to make this project happen.
Bowden pointed out the many benefits of the project: “Our Committee’s primary focus is, of course, fish and the positive impacts that restoring these fish runs can have on the Bagaduce River and Gulf of Maine. But as a resident, I value that these projects will also balance many things important to quality of life here, not only restoring fish passage, but also maintaining the current water levels in both ponds for wildlife, residents, and recreational users, as well as minimizing ongoing maintenance costs for the town.” This project, and others like it, are generating enthusiasm up and down the coast for restoration of fish passage.
The cumulative impact of these efforts is having an impact well beyond the Bagaduce River and other sites where alewives can once again make their annual spawning migration. The resurgence of a little fish is poised to make a big difference in the ecological productivity of the Gulf of Maine.
The DFP is an unprecedented effort to restore one of the world’s great ecosystems by reconnecting the rivers of eastern Maine to its coastal waters. The vision created by the partners involved with the DFP is that communities of eastern Maine can sustain themselves fishing forever.
For more information, visit http://downeastfisheries.org.