SOMESVILLE, May 29, 2020 – An osprey dives and snatches one and immediately turns the fish facing forward to cut down the drag. These are amazing mobile creatures built for the mission. The eagle which was hanging around to harass the osprey to drop the prey is nowhere to be seen. Eagles are lazy. They sit at the top of the food chain and prefer others do the heavy lifting. They also aren’t as adept as the quicker osprey to lift themselves back into flight.
Although I did not see one, seals are sometimes seen chasing the alewives all the way to the bottom of the fish ladder at Mill Pond.
A couple of opportunistic gulls are hovering. Twenty five yards away a family of Canada geese with newborn chicks are oblivious to the cacophony.
We are steps away from the back of the one-room library here, and the annual rite of passage for alewives – also called river herring – has begun. For city folks like me, this is a visual aphrodisiac. I’m trying to process the multiple activities and doing my best to understand the cycle of life before me.
I am properly masked and distanced from Billy Helprin, director of the Somes-Meynell sanctuary which operates the annual count on Mill Pond next to the historic selectmen’s building. Researchers from the College of The Atlantic are tagging some fish to track their migration patterns and to gather behavorial data.
The return of alewives to Maine’s inner waterways is an epic environmental achievement, and I am grateful to Billy for allowing me to participate (see my post below for the dam removal in 1999 which sparked this movement).
Alewives are a basic food source for just about every living thing in Maine – from striped bass, to lobsters, to otters, to loons, and the ones mentioned above. Since the removal of two dams on the Kennebec River, more than 27 million alewives have returned. Thousands of dams were constructed in the 19th century by the lumber industry.
Alewives are anadromous. They co-exist in salt water and fresh water lakes, where they spawn in the spring. Fish ladders such as the one here assist the fish to swim upstream. You may read more about them here https://www.nrcm.org/programs/waters/restoring-alewives-maine-rivers/
If you would like to view the fish here, you may cross the historic bowed bridge in the village to view the thousands of fish, including lake perch, in the pond below.
Final Mill Pond alewife count ..
Here is the final report on the 2020 alewife count from Billy …
“The total number that we all counted at the Mill Pond is 30,363 (4 times last year’s very low # of 7,608, and about 80% of 2018’s 37,678); at Long Pond we (mostly JF Burns) counted and moved by net 9,660 from trap into the lake (almost 19 times last year’s 512!!, 78% of 2018’s 12,353, 111% of 2017’s 8,669 – lots of variation here for sure).
This year’s run has been much better than I had feared it might be given last year’s drop. Last year’s low may have had to do in part with drought/low water conditions in the summer of 2015 and 2016.
We have continued to fine tune the complex fish passage “machine” (system) from Long Pond to Ripples Pond to Somes Pond to the Mill Pond and finally to the saltwater cove in Somesville – in both directions. What works going up is not necessarily what works for outbound fish. Each big rain event or significant depletion of water level necessitates adjustments to the system. As Rusty and Julie know from having the stream below the 2nd dam in their backyard, conditions can change quickly and actions need to be undertaken to block or open channels, and to herd and net fish out of deadend pools. “