China Lake alewife restoration initiative receives international award

From left to right, Landis Hudson, Nate Gray, and Matt Streeter display the award presented to the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative. (contributed photo)

Submitted by Landis Hudson

The China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative, a complex, ambitious and highly collaborative project, has shown remarkable success since its completion. The effort has now received international recognition and was awarded the 2024 “Distinguished Project Award” at the recent 15th International Symposium on Ecohydraulics and Fish Passage held in Quebec City, Canada. Dating back to 2011, the annual Fish Passage Conference has brought together experts, managers, stakeholders and companies from around the world with concurrent sessions in engineering, biology, and management and social issues. One goal of the Distinguisted Projects Award is to inspire greater application of fish passage restoration, there was no cash awarded.

The goal of all China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative was to restore fish passage to China Lake for alewives, a native migratory species. Over seven years, three dams were removed and three technical fishways were installed along the China Lake Outlet Stream. Known as the “fish that feed all” alewives are a keystone species, critical in freshwater and saltwater ecosystems, valuable throughout the land and waters of the Gulf of Maine. Alewives and blueback herring are collectively known as river herring. They feed many species of birds, including eagles and osprey, numerous other fish species, bear, raccoons, foxes, whales, haddock and cod. When the run is fully approved as being sustainable, a harvest can take place to benefit the Town.

In 2022, for the first time since the colonial era, native migratory alewives were able to make their way freely from the ocean to China Lake to spawn and they did so in large numbers—837,964 adults were counted as they entered the lake. Their offspring, young alewives, then made their way safely downstream and out to the ocean where they will live for four years before returning to freshwater to spawn. The results were remarkable in 2023 when a total of 1,943,733 adult alewives were counted entering the lake, even more remarkable in 2024 when 3,282,720 fish we tallied coming into the lake. In a letter confirming the size of the 2023 run, Nate Gray, key project partner and scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, noted:

“The re-establishment of a river herring run of this magnitude is a rare bird after a 239-year absence. A hearty congratulations is in order for Maine Rivers and all the partners involved in this ambitious project!”

Landis Hudson, Maine Rivers Executive Director, and Matt Streeter, Alewife Restoration Initiative Project Manager. were in Quebec City to accept the award on behalf of the many partners who came together over the course of the undertaking. Partners and project supporters included: Natural Resource Conservation Service, Town of Vassalboro, Town of China, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Maine Natural Resources Conservation Program, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Kennebec Savings Bank, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, China Region Lakes Alliance, China Lake Association and its members, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Community Foundation, The Nature Conservancy in Maine, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Anonymous Foundation, and many generous individuals.


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