TREMONT — Local and state agencies are teaming up to figure out how to increase the alewife population in Seal Cove Pond.
Voters laid the groundwork for this focus at this year’s annual town meeting in May when they approved Articles 39 and 40. Article 39 was a request for the town to vote to inform the State of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources that the town would like to maintain its rights to river herring, also known as alewives. Article 40 authorized selectmen to lease the alewife fishway at the Seal Cove Pond outlet to the entity that would conduct the fishway to the best advantage of the fish and regulate it on behalf of the town.
Collecting data to understand the best way to assist the anadromous species’ migration from the ocean, upstream into the pond is most important in 2019, according to Scott Craig who works in the Maine Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.
Alewives live in salt water until their spring migration, when they move into fresh water to spawn. Despite a fishway ladder at the edge of the pond to assist their passage, the population in Seal Cove Pond has been low over the last couple of decades. It isn’t clear to Craig if the ladder, an aged dam below the ladder and closer to the ocean cove, or the proximity to the roadway is the culprit.
“It’s not good for the fish because it’s so constricted in there,” said Craig about the existing structures. “I think some fish actually get up there right now… Maybe we can do some minor tweaks down below. Once the fish get up to the existing fishway, they’re really tired.”
Although some alewives are tenacious enough to reach the pond, the amount is not enough to sustain a healthy population. A healthy alewife population is about 235 fish per acre, which means the 255-acre pond in Seal Cove could sustain nearly 60,000 fish, Craig explained.
Town records indicate the current fishway ladder was constructed in 2002. There is also a reserve fund that contains $5,000 in the town coffers that can only be allocated for the purpose of maintaining or improving the fishway.
According to Saunders, any additional funding from federal sources will require at least a year’s worth of data collection. He and Craig indicate information around water levels and flow, as well as slope and layout of the area will help inform the parties involved to come up with a plan to improve the flow of the river herring.
“As long as we have a really good plan of attack with conceptual designs of what we need to do, I think they’re not going to have any issue finding funding,” said Craig.
Alewives were once close to going on the endangered species list but are making a comeback throughout the state. Maine has the largest river herring fishery in the country and brought in the second-largest catch in the last 37 years in 2017. They are a critical part of the ecosystem where several larger fish, birds of prey and animals feed on them. Alewives are also used in bait for lobster fishermen.
Representatives of Acadia National Park, Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) and Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have expressed interest in improving the alewife passage situation in Seal Cove Pond. According to Misha Mytar of MCHT, these organizations will be looking for help from a few community members in the spring to do some data collecting as part of a feasibility study to understand the best course of action.
Clearer information about what isn’t working will allow those involved to get to what will work.
“If we fixed that and they could get up there, this population would come back pretty quick,” said Craig.