A crowd was gathered at the North Haven ferry dock on a recent Saturday morning. A welcoming committee of sorts, they were there to greet two Maine Department of Marine Resources tanker trucks arriving via the Island Transporter. In the tanks were live, adult alewives taken from the Kennebec River. Their destination: Fresh Pond, which once supported North Haven’s commercial alewife fishery, and hopefully will again.
The stocking trucks, equipped with custom 750- and 1,000-gallon aerated tanks, rolled onto the island and were surrounded by the small but enthusiastic crowd. In the caravan escorting the trucks were Jeffrey Pierce, executive director of the Alewife Harvesters of Maine; Adam Campbell, North Haven fishermen and oyster farmer; Charles Curtin, island resident and science professor at Antioch University; Island Institute photographer Peter Ralston; and Toby Bonney and Jason Valliere, fisheries biologists with the Department of Marine Resources, who got to play heroes for the day in one of their more logistically challenging fish deliveries.
For all of them, the alewife delivery on May 29 was the culmination of three years of planning and many more of dreaming. With the arrival of the trucks of fish, alewives will move between Fresh Pond and the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in over a century.
This is what fisheries restoration looks like: children and old timers, summer folk and islanders-about 25 people in all-standing at the edge of the water on a chilly, foggy spring morning to watch 2,500 fish pour into a pond. People cheered, clapped, took photographs. Ninth-grader Ethan Taylor said it was pretty cool to actually see the fish he’d been learning about in school. “I only saw pictures before. I thought they’d be bigger,” he said.
“It’s exciting to see this coming to fruition,” said North Haven resident Becky Bartovics, a member of the restoration planning committee. “I hope we can do this throughout the bay, and rekindle some economic benefit for the waterfront.”
Someday, when the alewife run is healthy enough to harvest, profits from selling the fish for lobster bait will go toward marine conservation efforts around the island.
The adult alewives stocked in Fresh Pond will spawn and leave the pond within a week or two. The eggs will hatch and grow into juveniles over the summer. In the fall, as they migrate to the ocean, they’ll pick up sensory cues unique to the North Haven environment. This “imprinting” will serve to guide them back to Penobscot Bay next year, although they won’t be old enough to spawn; that will take another two years, which is why the DMR will be stocking Fresh Pond for the next several years to secure a population. According to Valliere of the DMR, about 20 fish return for every adult put into the pond. Meanwhile, federal and state agencies and various partners are evaluating the best culvert replacement design that will also maintain water levels in the pond.
“This work, restoration, it takes a lot of planning and effort and relationship-building,” said Curtin. “Putting the fish in is the easy part,” added Pierce. The project has the blessing of both the town and landowner David Greenway.
For Charles Soucy a graduate student at Antioch University and a resident of Rockwood, Maine, this is the second summer of monitoring Fresh Pond. Soucy is collecting baseline data on water chemistry, plankton and resident fish to see how things change with the addition of alewives (this monitoring has been supported in part by Maine Sea Grant). Fresh Pond is the drinking water supply for the island, which is why it is important to have the science to show the effects of the restoration, said Curtin. “No one has really studied this from scratch-to go from zero alewives to 2,500.” For Curtin, who has studied large-scale landscape restoration in the Great Plains and the desert Southwest, the North Haven project is about restoring the food web, and bringing back a Penobscot Bay ecosystem that provides for everyone. Whether alewives or bison or prairie dogs, said Curtin, “it’s all just putting back pieces that have been lost. When you sever connections between animals and their food, everything falls apart.”
After the stocking, there was a small celebration with smoked alewives and oysters. How did a smiling Adam Campbell feel about finally seeing the fish go into the pond? “It’s awesome. We don’t give up easily out here. Restoration is a learning curve, and every site is different. We just have to give them passage and watch the brooks.”
In the coming years, everyone on North Haven will be watching the brooks each spring, hoping to see the bluish silver flash of alewives swimming upstream.
Catherine Schmitt is communications coordinator for Maine Sea Grant.