Sheepscot Pond will benefit from alewives

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Frank Richards
President Webber Pond Assn.

I read, with interest, the Community Commentary column about LD 922 in last week’s issue of The Town Line (October 5). This is legislation to open the fish way on Sheepscot Lake and allow sea-run alewives to return.

That column makes a reference to Webber Pond . . . “but, overabundance of alewives (as has been experienced recently in Webber Pond) can degrade water quality and cause other complications.”

I am the president of the Webber Pond Association. That commentary goes way beyond both the discussion at our annual meeting this August and the article in The Town Line about that meeting by Roland Hallee, published in September.

There has never been a recorded case of overabundance in a spawning run causing problems. Alewives have overpopulated in the Great Lakes. However, that is comparable to living in the ocean, not a spawning run from the ocean to an inland lake.

Webber has had alewives since 1997. The run has slowly grown over an approximately 20-year period. In 2014 the run plateaued at 350,000 spawning adults and seems to have stabilized at that number, way more than we ever expected.

The Webber Pond Asso­cia­tion is trying to learn about an academic model, which estimates inputs of nutrients from spawning adults and outputs of nutrients from out migrating juveniles. Evidently, it may be possible to estimate an optimum sized run for Webber, where the most nutrients would be exported.

It’s fair to say that the Webber Pond Association has questions about the size of the run. At least one person has undocumented suspicions that it has become so big that it may be degrading water quality. However, rumors about overabundance of alewives actually causing problems on Webber Pond are erroneous.

It is important for people interested in LD 922 to understand that Webber’s experiences with alewives have been positive and alewives are popular among its residents. The lake has cleared substantially following their return.

When alewife restoration began in the mid-1990s, we too heard about the studies, mostly from the Midwest, which warned of negative effects. However, nearly 30 years later none of those problems ever materialized.

The good experiences on Webber have been replicated locally on Three Mile Pond and Togus Pond. Further north, Sebasticook Lake, Pushaw Lake, Chemo Pond, and Davis Pond have also had the same good experiences.

Last year, I was invited by a representative from the Natural Resources Council to testify in favor of LD 922 at the initial hearing. The committee seemed to already know about the positive effects of alewives on several inland lakes. As one might expect, it also seemed well aware of the economic development benefits of alewives to the lobster industry as bait and to the ocean fishery as forage.

The committee has probably been advised that the fish ladder passed alewives for many years without creating problems for the rearing station. They seemed openly skeptical about both lampreys and rearing station issues.

Several people with scientific credentials testified in favor of LD 922. No one with credentials testified in opposition. If it had been a fight, they would have stopped it.

A legislative committee will listen respectfully to any citizen. However, on something like this, at some point there needs to be confirmation by a scientist, before the committee will give those views much weight.

The Sheepscot Lake Association has been engaging in a political campaign to defeat LD 922. They are acting in good faith, out of concern for the lake’s welfare.

I wish they had reached out more to get a broad range of ideas and professional advice. I will assert that they have arrived on the wrong side of history and are actually opposing something that has worked well on other lakes and that credentialed scientists believe would benefit Sheepscot.

Alewives are the means by which nutrients are exchanged between the ocean and inland lakes. There is more involved than simple clearing of lakes, such as Webber, with phosphorus imbalances.

I predict that LD 922 will be reported out of committee as “Ought to Pass,” possibly by unanimous vote. I predict that a few years down the road, after gaining experience with alewives, Sheepscot’s residents will be as happy as the residents of any other lake that has them.

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