Alewife Monitoring

Each spring many streams and rivers in Eastern Maine host specular river herring spawning runs. Hundreds of thousands of blueback herring and alewives bring much needed nutrients to the human and natural communities that have fasted through the long winter. River herring—like salmon—need healthy, connected rivers to thrive. Alewives seek out lakes and ponds for spawning while blue backs use the moving waters of small streams and rivers. Collectively the migrating adult fish bring in crowds of eagles, osprey, cormorants, bears, raccoons, and anyone else looking for fish fresh from the ocean. The abundance lasts only a few weeks before the adults return to saltwater and leave their millions of progeny behind to be fed by and fed on in the fresh water world.

As one of the earliest fisheries to be managed in Maine alewives have always been an important part of the annual gleaning that the natural landscape of downeast Maine has provided its peoples. The fish are perfect lobster bait and garden fertilizers, and when salted and smoked provided a source of protein long after the last runs have slowed in late spring.

In communities where runs are still harvested—either commercially or recreationally—good data is needed to assure that current river herring populations can be maintained or restored.  Similar to our smelt survey program DSF has committed to help collect good data to co-manage these resources with the State of Maine and local communities. We have several underwater cameras that recorded runs on the East Machias at the newly restored Pokey Dam fishway, on Card Mill Stream in Franklin, and at the outlet of Meddybemp’s Lake on the Denny’s River. In each one of these locations DSF has partnered with a local harvester or community member and has provided the tools and time of our Alewife Ambassador to focus on the specific needs of these communities. With our equipment and sampling procedures in place we hope to help other communities and individuals monitor their own runs in the future springs.

If you are interested in helping with this alewife monitoring effort, please contact DSF staff member Brett Ciccotelli at (207)812-0288 or brett@mainesalmonrivers.org.

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