In a normal year, William Helprin, director of the Somes Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary, estimates that several hundred alewives die on the arduous journey home, but this year was even more challenging because of the lack of rain.  ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Fish run sees record number of alewives, but more deaths too



SOMESVILLE — More adult alewives have died this year on the return trip from Somes Pond and Long Pond back to the ocean due to low water levels, said William Helprin, the director of the Somes Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary.  

In a normal year, Helprin estimated that several hundred alewives die on the arduous journey home, but this year was even more challenging because of the lack of rain.  

“We always lose some that just lose the energy,” he said of the alewives. “It was particularly tough because of low water levels.” 

The 2 inches of rain from Memorial Day weekend was a big help, but levels were still low. The last substantial rain before that was April 1.  

The sanctuary has been fielding calls from people who have seen dead fish from the Somesville bridge. Helprin said there was nothing else to spark concern. 

He estimated that less than 1,000 died on the way out, but the numbers were higher than normal and they were largely washing up in that highly visible area.  

“This number was higher because of super low water levels,” he said.  

Even in death, the alewives would likely go to feed some other animal, such as an eel, snapping turtle or gull.  

“There’s always creatures taking advantage of the dead ones,” Helprin said.  

The sanctuary has moved some of the dead fish to the oceanside, but the smell has remained.  

There were some good signs, though. More than 51,000 alewives swam through the fish run this year – a record number for the last 20 years or more and 20 percent higher than last year. This run is the largest on the island but does require lots of maintenance to keep it going. It has also grown tremendously in the last 15 years. In 2005, only 361 fish swam into the mill pond.  

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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