May is here, and that means the annual return of many things: flowers and birds; sunshine and garden words; foliage and flowers; fish and more fish.
The annual arrival of fish to coastal rivers, this Rite of Spring, is somewhat unique to Maine. Twelve species of migratory (sea-run or diadromous) fish are native to the Northeastern U.S., but Maine is the only place where all of them still exist in countable numbers. Thus Maine is the last refuge for wild Atlantic salmon, and hosts the largest remaining populations of sea-run brook trout, rainbow smelt, alewives and blueback herring.
These last two are harvested by communities, sold mostly for lobster bait, with the profits going toward local schools and other municipal services. The alewife fishery has served as an incentive for towns to restore alewife waters by fixing fish ladders, removing defunct dams, and upgrading culverts. Local citizen groups also lead fish passage restoration projects because they want to return native species to their watershed, including the birds and other wildlife that feed on alewives. Witness: the restored alewife run in the Kennebec River has attracted what is now the largest aggregation of bald eagles in New England.
It’s hard to really comprehend the volume of fish that once filled Maine's bays and rivers—seeing really is believing, and today the best way to grasp the magnitude is to visit a publicly accessible alewife run during the month of May. Here’s the list of such places. This year is the biennial World Fish Migration Day, with lots of events throughout the state.
1. Damariscotta Mills. The historic fish ladder restored by citizens is the premier place to see the alewives. Park at the base of the ladder and walk up along a winding path that criss-crosses the stream. Alewives are mere inches away.
2. Blackman Stream at the Maine Forest & Logging Museum. A new rock-ramp fishway and walking trail allows for a close-up view of the migration into Chemo and Davis Ponds.
3. Sedgeunkedunk Stream: A constructed rock-ramp channel allows fish to migrate upstream while maintaining water levels in Sedgeunkedunk Meadows. On Brewer Lake Road in East Orrington just south of the Kozy Korner store.
4. Benton Falls. The run has attracted bald eagles – the largest congregation in Maine. The annual Benton Alewife Festival takes place May 13-14.
5. Surry Town Landing. A newly constructed fishway will be open to the public on May 21. Lots of wildlife gather in the bay to feed on the alewives.
6. Somesville. Restoration of the Somes Pond fish run continues, led by the Somesville-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary.
Have a favorite place to watch alewives that's not on this list? Let us know!