As spring comes to coastal Maine, it brings with it the return of alewives to Nequasset Lake in Woolwich and the start of the annual Nequasset Alewife Count. Volunteers are needed from May through early June to count the fish that successfully make it over the fish ladder. Counting is a fun activity for both children and adults, and no prior experience in necessary. Sign up for the count at www.kennebecestuary.org/fish-counting
Each fish counter signs up for a two-hour block and counts fish for two 10-minute periods in that block. Counting is broken into blocks between 6am and 8pm, every day of the week for the month when the fish are climbing the ladder to go into the lake.
Although seeing alewives fight the current to get over the ladder is the main event, volunteers have also had the chance to see eagles, herons, ospreys, mink, bass, and loons drawn to the ladder by the lure of an alewife meal. A visit to the fish ladder also brings the chance to purchase some smoked alewives for 75 cents apiece.
Alewives are an important part of the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. They feed many of our favorite fish to eat like cod salmon and stripped bass. Birds of prey, eagles and osprey, depend on the alewife migration and you will often see them hunting at the ladder. Historically and today, alewives are a valued bait fish for Maine’s Lobster Industry. They are harvested and sold by the bushel at the Nequasset Ladder – a favorite sight to see!
Fish counting is important because it helps to evaluate if there are enough fish entering the lake to sustain a healthy alewife run and harvest in the future. The town of Woolwich has had a sustainable alewife run and harvest at Nequasset for hundreds of years. Counting also helps to assess if the new fish ladder, constructed in 2014, is working as well as it possibly can to enable fish to enter Nequasset Lake.
If you have any questions about the Nequasset alewife count, contact Ruth Indrick at the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust at email@example.com or (207) 442-8400.