Organized & Funded Effort Begins Alewife Restoration, Part I
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Left to right: Bailey Bowden, Tobey Wardwell, Ed Wardwell, and Bill Hutchins, back in 2015 moving 30,000 alewives over the dam. Photo by David Wardwell

black.) Committee members also collect a scale sample from each fish to determine its age and if it has previously spawned. (The DMR analyzes the scale samples.) The Alewife Committee has also spent countless hours maintaining clear passage in Penobscot’s brooks, Mill Creek at Pierce’s Pond, and Winslow Stream at Wight’s Pond . “We manually count how many fish enter Wight’s Pond each spring,” Bowden said. “The fishway was so inefficient that we had to hand-dip 30,000 alewives over the dam annually.” He stated, “We had to come up with something better.”

The committee’s pro bono alewife work is tremendously time-consuming. “During the run,” Bowden said, “we are at the pond every 12 hours at a minimum to count fish. Dipping may take another hour or two. Checking the brooks for blockages takes another two hours.” He added, “I check for poachers about every three hours, 24/7.” Although the season lasts only six weeks a year, Bowden, a confessed fanatic, said he has some sort of alewife meeting about 16 days each month. He added that six weeks before the alewives arrive, he is out almost every night documenting the Bagaduce River smelt runs.

“The Town of Penobscot was incredibly fortunate to partner with Maine Coast Heritage Trust [MCHT] and to have MCHT’s Ciona Ulbrich bring her skillset and MCHT’s resources to the table,” Bowden said. The engineering firm of Wright-Pierce, of Topsham, Maine, analyzed conditions at both ponds and designed more efficient fish passages. The engineering studies alone cost $50,000. Bowden said that Ulbrich convinced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) that “small projects may pay small fish dividends, but large social and ecological gains.” NOAA and TNC paid the entire $50,000 bill.

Left to right: David Wardwell, recording the data. Bailey Bowden, looking at the color of the stomach wall (peritoneum) to identify species and sex. (Alewives are pinkish, bluebacks are black.) Bill Hutchins, who is no longer on the committee, is measuring the fish. Photo by David Wardwell

Once the fishways were designed, Bowden said the Town got $200,000 in grants and $60,000 from private contributors, which he referred to as anonymous donations, to pay for both projects. Most grants were all under the Penobscot River Habitat Blueprint Program. Bowden said, “That’s what’s paying for all the dam removal on the Penobscot River. It was a huge pot of money.”

The Blue Hill Heritage Trust and the Town of Penobscot, together with the MCHT, NOAA, TNC, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW), along with the private donors financed the restoration of fish passages to Pierce’s Pond and Wight’s Pond. Bowden said, “I preach that generous funding has allowed us to begin this project, which the Town of Penobscot could never afford.” Both projects are supposed to be completed by Sept. 30. “The one at Wight’s Pond is looking really good,” Bowden said. “They just started the one at Pierce’s Pond the week of Aug. 7, but that’s a much smaller project.”

Ciona Ulbrich has been working with national governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and handling the project’s paperwork with Bowden establishing local and community support. Bowden explained, “I also have a good relationship with many Maine-based NGOs that were willing to write letters of support for the project when support was desperately needed.” He added, “The Town Alewife Committee brings legitimacy and the manpower needed to physically manage the run.”

But Bowden’s ultimate goal is to restore every alewife run between the Narramissic River in Orland and the Union River in Ellsworth. “This sounds ambitious,” he said, “but Blue Hill and Brooklin have only a few historic runs.” He said the town of Brooksville has appointed a fish committee to look into its alewife concerns and that some people from Sedgwick have also shown alewife interest. In fact, Bowden said there is a loose working group trying to draft language for a multi-town agreement on alewife management. This summer Bowden said he has been collecting biological alewife data that will be studied from New Brunswick to California.

“Alewives are only here for at the most six weeks a year in May and depending on the year, on into June,” Bowden said. He then asked rhetorically, “Wouldn’t it be grand if native Gulf of Maine alewives could support the lobster industry for six weeks in the spring, saving the preferred herring until July?”