As spring comes to coastal Maine, it brings with it the return of alewives to Nequasset Lake and the start of the annual Nequasset Alewife Count. The first alewives were seen entering Nequasset Lake on April 29 this year. Volunteers are needed from now through early June to count the fish that successfully make it over the fish ladder. Counting is a fun activity for both children and adults, and no prior experience in necessary. Each volunteer count is done by an individual group of volunteers, so it is a socially distanced activity that provides a fun excuse to get outdoors.
Sign up for a count at www.kennebecestuary.org/fish-counting; Each fish counter signs up for a two-hour block and counts fish for two 10-minute periods in that block. Counting is broken into blocks between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., every day of the week for the month when the fish are climbing the ladder to go into the lake.
Although seeing alewives fight the current to get over the ladder is the main event, volunteers have also seen an array of other wildlife like eagles, herons, ospreys, mink, bass, and loons that are drawn to the ladder by the lure of an alewife meal. A visit to the fish ladder also brings the chance to purchase some smoked and salted alewives for 75 cents apiece.
Alewives are an important part of the food chain in the Gulf of Maine, both in the water and on land. They feed fish like cod and striped bass, and birds of prey depend on the alewife migration for a source of spring food. Historically and today, alewives are a valued bait fish for Maine’s lobster industry. They are harvested and sold by the bushel at the Nequasset Ladder.
Fish counting is important because it helps to evaluate if there are enough fish entering the lake to reproduce to sustain a healthy alewife run and harvest in the future. The town of Woolwich has had an active alewife run and sustainable harvest at Nequasset for hundreds of years. Counting also helps to assess if the fish ladder is working as well as it possibly can to enable fish to make their way over Nequasset dam and enter Nequasset Lake.
If you have any questions about the Nequasset alewife count, contact Ruth Indrick at the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org or (207) 442-8400.