The Pennamaquan River historically has had a robust run of river herring. In 1972, the town of Pembroke had a commercial harvest of over 280,000 pounds. Since 2011, there has been no harvest—in part because of a lack of data on the run size and in part because there are so many fewer fish getting over the dams. Estimates are that fully 75% of the alewives can no longer ascend the ladder due to maintenance issues.
The Downeast Sustainability Project is a partnership between the Washington County Council of Governments, the Downeast Salmon Federation, and the Sunrise County Economic Council to restore commercial river herring (alewife and blueback herring) fisheries in the East Machias and greater Cobscook Bay watersheds.
Our effort to repair the fish ladders on the Pennamaquan is a single component of a far larger project to restore river herring runs region-wide in Washington County. It is DSF’s intent to restore the runs to their historic numbers. To that end we have initiated a multi-pronged campaign that includes:
- On-going, multi-year survey of river herring population in rivers and streams throughout the county.
- Restoration of watershed connectivity—taking out dams, replacing culverts, and where there is no alternative, building fish passage over obstructions. Only one major dam remains on the county’s five largest rivers and most herring habitat is now accessible. Many culverts and dams still remain on smaller rivers and streams, such as the Pennamaquan.
- Habitat restoration projects—complexifying the habitat, reducing water acidity, returning streams and rivers to their natural courses—are just getting started, however they are a critical part of the overall plan.
- On-going outreach to communities, schools, and public officials to educate people about the benefits of restored herring runs.