Years ago, when Adam Campbell first moved to North Haven, he heard stories about folks like John Emerson and Foy Brown, who went down to the Damariscotta River to get alewives and brought them back across Penobscot Bay to try to jump-start a population of the anadromous or “sea-run” fish on the island. While those efforts were unsuccessful, Campbell didn’t forget about the alewives.
Campbell, a commercial fisherman, lives on Mill Stream, a long tidal inlet at the head of Pulpit Harbor that ends at a dike constructed in the 1800s. Behind the dike is Salt Pond, where he grows oysters. A small stream runs through a culvert beneath the road connecting Salt Pond to Fresh Pond.
“I’ve chased my share of wild fish around. Now, I live right on this water, and I’m scratching my head wondering why I can’t just bring the fish right to my dooryard,” said Campbell.
And that’s exactly what he set out to do, with a little help from some friends.
Campbell’s alewife dream was rekindled by a carpenter who came out in February to work on a house. The carpenter saw signs for oysters around the island, and found his way to Campbell’s door. The oyster-seeking carpenter happened to live on another Mill Stream, in Dresden, and his name happened to be Jeffrey Pierce. He is executive director of the Alewife Harvesters of Maine. Campbell, seeing Pierce’s AHM sweatshirt, mentioned his vision to the carpenter who knew something about alewives.
“So we took a walk and looked at the run,” Campbell recalled. “I showed him the harbor and the inlet and the dike, and he said ‘that looks good,’ and I showed him the salt pond and the stream and he said, ‘that looks good,’ and I showed him the 18-inch culvert into Fresh Pond, and he said, ‘there’s your problem.'”
Campbell got North Haven on the Department of Marine Resources’ schedule for stocking, but just barely. “There’s a big movement to restore alewives all along this coast, and we were last on the list,” said Campbell. The DMR stocks alewives by taking fish from healthier runs and trucking them to depleted areas, adding fish at a rate of six fish per acre. But live, tanked fish can’t wait in line for the ferry during the busy late spring season, and they don’t show up in a predictable fashion that would allow Campbell to make a ferry reservation. So he arranged to rent the Island Transporter. But in the end, time ran out. The alewife run ended before DMR could get spawning alewives across the bay. “We didn’t get to put any fish in this year, and that was kind of a bummer.”
More needs to be done to make North Haven hospitable to alewives once again.
The dike needs to be enlarged, and the culvert into Fresh Pond needs a small fish ladder. Funding for these actions has not yet been obtained, but Campbell is moving forward working with fellow North Haven resident Charles Curtin, a conservation biologist and lecturer at MIT and Antioch University New England. Curtin has been contributing expertise and student hours to the effort.
Through historical research, Antioch graduate student Charles Soucy discovered the existence of an alewife run on North Haven in the late 1800s, documented by municipal papers that auction alewife harvesting rights. Soucy is also monitoring water quality in an attempt to document the impact of restoring the fish run.
“Few people have had the luxury of gaining a baseline from a system without fish and really looking to see what happens when you put a key piece back into an ecosystem,” said Curtin.
Curtin is optimistic about finding funding. “We are already getting broad support from everyone from the Grange and VFW, to the land trust, as well as sport fishermen. We are working with the school to get fish studies as part of the curriculum next year.”
Students at the North Haven Community School have been reviewing the island’s fishing history as part of a project titled, “Where have all the fish gone?” Campbell, who visited the classroom to demonstrate herring fishing techniques, envisions the students tending to the stream and witnessing the alewife delivery next spring.
“I’ll be too old to harvest by the time this run is viable in eight or 12 or 16 years,” said Campbell. “But I’ve got three young boys, and I’m really doing it for the next generation. Fishing’s been good to me, so I thought it’s time to give something back.”