TREMONT — Improving the Seal Cove Brook passageway for alewives to reach Seal Cove Pond is a slow-moving process, not unlike their migration.
At their Oct. 5 meeting, members of the board of selectmen voted in support of having Town Manager Chris Saunders provide letters of support for grant applications to fund what could be as much as $270,000 in improvements to the Seal Cove Brook fish ladder.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to come from the town,” said Misha Mytar of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, who has been working with Saunders on coming up with a plan to improve alewife passage. “We’re also anticipating doing some private fundraising for this project. I will say, having the town committed and on board, including putting some money into this project, goes a long way.
“The grant makers are going to want to see clear community support behind this project,” she added. “We’re going to need letters of support from Chris with any grant application that we pursue. There are a couple coming up right now. But, there will be more over the course of this coming year.”
In May 2019, members of the board of selectmen asked Saunders to work with Maine Coast Heritage Trust to see what was possible in Seal Cove Brook to improve the passage of alewives during the spring to the pond from the ocean. An engineer was hired by MCHT to come up with a plan for the fish ladder and he presented his findings to selectmen during the meeting.
“The project you have at Seal Cove is very interesting,” said civil engineer Joe McLean, pointing out three areas of concern along the fish ladder route. “All three of those places have different levels of difficulty for the fish to pass. All three of those areas have different strategies as well.”
Beginning with the dam, McLean presented the three areas of concern, but noted there may be other potential problem areas along the ladder. Downstream, where Seal Cove Brook gets steep, and at the base of the stream where the grade begins to flatten out, were all places that would require attention to increase the number of alewives traversing the passageway.
“We want to improve it,” said McLean after highlighting two places where there are extreme drops in elevation that could be fixed using natural materials like rocks. “We want 80 percent of fish or 90 percent of fish to get through. Right now, there are some fish getting back up into Seal Cove Pond, not a lot.”
Alewives are an anadromous species of fish that live the majority of their lives in the ocean but migrate up freshwater streams to spawn. Once in abundance, alewives have taken a population hit from overfishing, watershed pollution and river dams, but there are several efforts to improve their numbers throughout Maine and New England.
“We’re building ramps that are allowing the entire population to get through in a meaningful way,” said McLean.
Selectman Kevin Buck asked about two other fish ladder projects McLean had participated in that created similar structures to ones proposed for the Seal Cove passageway.
“It looks really good,” said Buck. “You can tell it’s not natural, but I think it’s really close and the fish can pass, which is the key thing.”
Mytar pointed out that the earliest work could begin on the project, with funding lined up, would be fall of 2021.
“We have a plan that we can pursue,” she said to selectmen. “Should we try to line up the funding?”
“Whatever we have to do to support you, let us know,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Jamie Thurlow. “It definitely needs some work, sooner than later.”