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Historic alewife restoration initiative hits another milestone

The China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative team, from left to right, Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers; Ray Breton, owner of the Olde Mill property; Nate Gray of Maine Department of Marine Resources; and Matt Streeter, project manager for Maine Rivers and the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

Six dams in six years — that was the goal, says Matt Streeter, project manager for the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative, and it’s a goal they are likely to meet — and maybe even surpass.

The team invited me down to Box Mill Dam, behind the Olde Mill, in Vassalboro, to view their progress on the new fishway currently under construction. Once complete, it will be another milestone on the way to opening up migratory fish passage into China Lake for the first time in nearly two centuries.

It’s been a long haul for the project team, which is headed up by the nonprofit Maine Rivers, working in collaboration with the towns of China and Vassalboro, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Kennebec Water District, the Sabasticook Regional Land Trust and the China Region Lakes Alliance.

“It takes a lot of work,” says Landis Hudson, executive director for Maine Rivers. “We have created a big, solid team to work on this project, and we have been in communication for six years to get this far, but it’s taken a strong team and a clear vision of the future. We’re not done yet, but we can see the finish line.”

Originally, there were six dams along Outlet Stream blocking fish passage into China Lake. Depending on what was appropriate for the location, the group has either dismantled the dam or built a fishway to allow migratory fish a means around the obstacle. Last year, they completed a fishway at Ladd Dam, in Vassalboro. In the years prior, they dismantled Lombard and Masse da1ms. This year they are building a fishway Ôat Box Mill Dam, which leaves just Morneau Dam and the dam at the head of Outlet Stream (behind the Vassalboro Historical Society) to finish.

Although alewives have been annually stocked in China Lake for years, the team’s work will dramatically increase the lake’s migratory fish population.

“The population is going to go up significantly,” explains Nate Gray, of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Gray has been responsible for stocking alewives in China Lake since the beginning, starting in 1997. “We stock about 25,0000 [adult alewives] a year,” he says, “[but] we know China Lake is good for about a million fish.”

Construction of a fishway continues at the Box Mill Dam, in North Vassalboro. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

Maine Rivers executive director, Landis Hudson, elaborates: “It’s great that DMR has been jump-starting the system by putting those fish in,” she says, “but the idea is to let the system do its own thing — [to] have a self-sustaining population that can make their way, essentially, from the ocean up to China Lake on their own volition.

“What we’re doing is bringing a big burst of native species back in that will – obviously – be good for the stream,” continues Hudson, “but it will also have an echo effect throughout this system and then further out into the Gulf of Maine. So, it will strengthen the food web for fish, birds, and other animals.”

Some people have questioned why these dams have not been repurposed to generate electrical power, but Hudson says that idea isn’t practical. “Sometimes people have this idea that every single dam in the state could be producing hydropower,” she says, “[but] none of the dams along Outlet Stream are particularly viable now. They were used for gristmills; they were used for saw mills — old-fashioned power. Those times are gone. So, we’ve been basically working with what’s here, trying to fix the stream and make it less ‘broken’ — bringing back the fish — but the idea of some imaginary hydropower project is not viable anymore.”

The Alewife Restoration Initiative has worked with local landowners to accomplish their goals. Ray Breton, owner of the Olde Mill property, has collaborated closely with the team to ensure the current fishway at Box Mill – and last year’s Ladd Dam fishway – were built without sacrificing the natural beauty of the environment.

“It’s been great,” says Breton. “I had some recommendations, in order to add to the park, so this all blends in and looks like Mother Nature. They were good to work with. They could have said, ‘No,’ but they didn’t. Everything I’ve asked for they put in.”

Hudson agrees. “People come here for weddings, or to have their high school pictures taken,” she says, referring to the current project at Box Mill, “so we’ve tried to make plans which integrate that into it, and [keep] the aesthetics of the waterfall. It’s not just fish passage. It’s fish passage and a park.”

Project manager Matt Streeter adds, “This is going to be the place where we are going to encourage people to come look at the fish run in the stream. There’s going to be a nice brick walkway all the way around it, and safety railings, so people will have a good view of the fishway.”

The team is aiming to complete construction at Box Mill by October. Next year, they will tackle Morneau Dam or Outlet Dam — or maybe both. It all depends on the funding.

“There is no simple way to do it, and there is no cheap way to do it,” says Hudson. “If there was a simpler or cheaper way to do it, we would have done it already.”

Contact the author at ericwaustin@gmail.com.

2019 Webber Pond Association takes on three controversial issues

Frank Richards, of Vassalboro, has been president of the Webber Pond Association for 20 years.

Postpone proxy balloting and voter restrictions to 2020

by Roland D. Hallee

This year’s edition of the Webber Pond Association annual meeting took on the feel of meetings from the past. Where in recent years they have been somewhat quiet, especially in regards to the lake drawdown, this year’s version produced additional controversy, with much discussion about the drawdown, and questions about proxy voting and voting restrictions.

Many different views were presented in regards to the drawdown date. In their June meeting, the board of directors had recommended Monday, September 16, as the proposed date. The third Monday in September has been the norm for the last five years or so. The directors came to that conclusion by trying to determine a date that would pass on the first vote.

However, this year, there were other dates mentioned at the annual meeting, mainly October 28 and November 30. The two latter dates never came up for a vote as the September 16 date passed, 33-29, a far closer vote than in years past. Over the last 10 – 12 years, votes in favor of the third Monday have been more one-sided, with few dissenters.

The common thought for the September 16 drawdown was that it has “been beneficial” to lower the water level in September as opposed to later in the year, even though DEP recommendations are for a mid-August drawdown. Association Vice President Charles Backenstose, a strong proponent for early drawdown, said that the September date is a compromise that is still useful at exporting phosphorus, while enabling people to use the lake longer. “Who wants to pull boards [at the dam] in July?” he asked.

Association President Frank Richards noted that the November 30 date coincides with the end of duck season. “I don’t think we’ll get any more water quality benefit by setting the winter level on October 28. There’s just no reason to not wait until November 30, if the membership favors a later draw down.”

Attendees at the meeting also brought up the possibility of implementing proxy voting for members unable to attend the meeting because of work, or other, commitment. Discussion on this topic drew the most heated exchange of the meeting, with some in attendance insisting that the by-laws provided for them to present the question to the membership for a vote at this year’s meeting. It was moved and approved to put the question on the agenda for the 2020 meeting.

Also, a motion to change the by-laws to restrict voting rights to lake property owners only was ruled out of order by Richards. It was the president’s opinion it was too big a change to be put on the agenda without any prior notice. A motion was made to overturn Richards’ ruling, but was defeated, although 16 people did vote to support the motion.

It also was moved and approved to place the voting membership question on the 2020 agenda.

In other business, Bob Nadeau, Webber Pond Association’s representative on the China Region Lakes Alliance, reported that the reason that more shoreline work is being done on China Lake than Webber Pond and Three Mile Pond is because of the fact that China provides significantly more funding to the CRLA than do the other two lakes. Both Webber and Three Mile ponds are located in Vassalboro.

“Alewives continue to be a much-discussed topic as a water quality management tool and as a restoration effort,” said Nadeau. “There is no doubt that the water quality has improved since their introduction into both Webber and Three Mile ponds.”

Nadeau also noted that, as of his knowledge, there are no invasive plants in Webber Pond. The Webber Pond Association voted to give $1,000 to CRLA. In total, according to Nadeau, it costs about $6,000 a year to provide boat inspectors at the three lakes.

In his vice president’s report, Backenstose said the water clarity in the pond has doubled over the last three weeks, to 3.7 meters (approx. 9-1/2 feet), an improvement from less than two meters on July 13. He also has seen no collection of the scum that accumulates when a severe algae bloom is present.

Backenstose has taken Secchi disk readings on the pond for the last 15 years. He also takes phosphorus samples that are analyzed at the state level. There is no data available for Secchi disk readings in October or November, as Backenstose, a Pennsylvania resident, returns home in September and is not available to produce readings for those months, which have increasingly become part of the discussion as far as the annual drawdown is concerned. A member of the audience volunteered to take those readings in order to be able to build a data base for those two months in regards to water clarity. The offer was enthusiastically accepted by Richards.

In his president’s report, Richards said, “Webber is on track to have a really good summer with respect to keeping the lake at a good level.” They have been able to keep levels at the spillway despite several years of drought conditions.

Gov. Janet Mills, left, tries to lift a net full of alewives during the May run. Phil Innes, a Webber Pond Association director, helps the governor. (photo by Jeff Nichols)

The association has been using a management plan for Webber Pond that was drafted in 1990 by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. That plan is in the process of being updated and will be posted on the Facebook page as soon as it is available, according to Richards.

From a question posed by Richards, no one in attendance has caught, nor heard of anyone else on the lake having caught, a northern pike. A good sign.

Richards also noted that in May, Gov. Janet Mills visited the fish ladder at the Webber Pond dam. It marked the first time a Maine governor had ever visited a fish ladder anywhere in the state of Maine. Another landmark appearance was the presence of the directors of the Department of Marine Resources and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to the Vassalboro dam.

Members returned all officers, Frank Richards, president; Charles Backenstose, vice president; Rebecca Lamey, secretary; John Reuthe, treasurer. Also elected were directors Robert Bryson, Scott Buchert, Mary Bussell, Darryl Fedorchak, Roland Hallee, Phil Innes, Jennifer Lacombe, Robert Nadeau, Stephen Pendley, Pearly LaChance, John Reuthe, Susan Traylor and James Webb.

After 200 years, alewives set to return to China Lake

Fish ladder construction at Ladd Dam, in North Vassalboro. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

For more than five years, a group of dedicated people have been working to re-open Maine waterways to the state’s native migratory fish population. The obstacles have been fierce, but the rewards promise to be well worth the effort. Clearer water in our lakes and ponds, an enhanced food web and improved habitat along our rivers and streams are just a few of the benefits proponents of the project expect to see.

Map of the dams along Outlet Stream. (Click to enlarge.)

As European settlers spread into central Maine in the 1700s, they found a lush landscape: forests filled with wildlife and lakes teeming with fish. They also saw untapped potential in Maine’s many rushing rivers and flowing streams. Dams popped up everywhere as settlers sought to harness the region’s hydropower to grind their grain and drive their saw mills. No less than six dams were built along Outlet Stream, in Vassalboro alone.

Dams are basically good for one thing: preventing water from flowing. They also, unintentionally, prevent fish from traveling upstream. Migratory species like river herring (alewives and blueback herring), sea lamprey, shad and salmon, which spend much of their lives at sea but return to fresh waters to spawn, were – pardon the pun ­– left high and dry by the dam construction.

These obstructions along Maine’s rivers had a particular impact on alewives which – unlike their cousins, the blueback herring, that spawn in the rocky beds of freshwater streams and rivers – prefer to lay their eggs in the muddy bottoms of our lakes and ponds. Alewives were already faced with the daunting task of navigating up Maine’s rivers and through the maze of Maine’s many streams before finally reaching the calm and safety of interior lakes. With the additional obstacles posed by man-made dams built along Maine’s streams and rivers, migratory fish populations virtually disappeared from many of our lakes. Alewives, which had been so plentiful in our ponds and lakes before the arrival of European settlers, dwindled to almost nothing by the 20th century.

The site of Masse Dam, which was removed a year ago. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

Alewives in particular offer an ecological benefit to Maine lakes that was lost when they disappeared. These migratory fish feed on the phosphorous-rich plankton that also serve as a nutrient for the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that is currently such a problem in our lakes. The alewives carry the phosphates they consume back to the ocean, depriving the algae of this essential nutrient and curbing its growth.

Most of this phosphorous enters the lake as runoff from melting snow and summer rains. When soil around the lake is disturbed, such as during construction for rural development, it brings more of these nutrients to the surface, which then are carried into the lake by the rains or melting snow. As the population around Maine’s lakes grew and development along the shoreline increased, more phosphorous-rich soil was disturbed and those nutrients were carried as runoff into nearby bodies of water.

Unfortunately, the very creatures that could have helped balance the increased phosphorous were stuck – quite literally – out at sea. The algae and cyanobacteria in the lake had no such problem, however, and as a result they began to multiply and spread like crazy. Lakes, once beautifully blue, began to turn green.

The China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative aims to reclaim this balance by restoring alewife passage back to China Lake. The project is headed up by the nonprofit organization Maine Rivers, in collaboration with the towns of China and Vassalboro, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Kennebec Water District, the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, and the China Region Lakes Alliance.

“‘Collaborative’ is not a strong enough word,” says Maine Rivers’ executive director, Landis Hudson, describing the team effort.

Much of the early groundwork for the project was laid down by the China Region Lakes Alliance, which was founded in 1995 by residents of China, Vassalboro and Windsor, along with the Kennebec Water District, to address water quality and erosion concerns around China Lake, Three Mile Pond, Webber Pond and Three Cornered Pond.

Lombard Dam was one of those removed by the Maine Rivers team. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

Of the six dams along Outlet Stream which were blocking fish passage from Sebasticook River, two have been completely removed, Lombard and Masse dams. Fishways are planned for three others, Outlet, Box Mill and Ladd dams. Morneau Dam will be the final one tackled by the team, scheduled for the summer of 2022, although at this point they haven’t decided whether a fishway or a complete removal is more appropriate for the location.

Currently, the team is constructing a fishway at Ladd Dam in Vassalboro, which they hope to complete no later than September 30. The fishway is based on a design first proposed in 1909 by the Belgian scientist G. Denil.

“The channel will be four feet wide,” says Matt Streeter, project manager for Maine Rivers and the Alewife Restoration Initiative. Removable barriers, called baffles, will be placed along the fishway to help control the flow of water and give the fish a place to rest as they fight the rushing current. Grating will also be installed over the fishway – extending a few inches above ground level – to allow observation of the fish migration, but prevent anyone from falling into the racing water.

“The key thing that will attract fish into [the fishway] will be its location,” Streeter explains. “It’s gotta be in the vicinity of one of the major currents in the stream – and you really should have more water coming out of your fishway than going anywhere else, because it’s got to be the most attractive stream for them to follow up. They’re basically looking for the deepest, swiftest, largest volume of water.”

A fishway was installed a decade ago on Webber Pond at the outlet to Seven Mile Brook in order to allow alewives to re-enter the pond (although alewives have been stocked in Webber Pond and China Lake by the Maine Department of Marine Resources since 1997).

“[Water quality] is much, much better than it was before the alewives,” says Frank Richards, president of the Webber Pond Association, in Vassalboro. “It’s not perfect. The alewives are not a panacea, but the [algae] blooms are just a fraction of how intense they used to be. Before the alewives, there would be a green, gelatinous, slime-mess starting in late June and lasting until mid-September. With the alewives, we have clear water for most of the summer.”

Richards warns that opening up passage for alewives into the lake will not solve all the problems associated with an overabundance of nutrients in the water. On Webber Pond, there is still usually one algae bloom each summer. “There’s almost always at least one bloom,” he says, “and it’s very rare – even with the alewives – not to have a bloom that qualifies as a ‘severe bloom,’ meaning a [water visibility] reading of two meters or less. So, the alewives have not completely eliminated blooms, but the intensity isn’t even remotely comparable to what it was before the alewives were introduced.”

Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, at Outlet Dam, in Vassalboro. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

There has been some concern that alewives dumped into China Lake might become ‘landlocked’ and unable to return to the ocean. If this happens, any phosphorous reduction they provide could be outweighed by the nutrients reintroduced at their deaths. Generally, this does not seem to be a problem in either Webber Pond or China Lake, as they are able to leave the lake with water as it is released through the dam’s control gates, but the Alewife Restoration team aims to prevent any alewives from becoming landlocked by including, along with the fishways, renovations to the dams which will provide an ‘alewife outlet’ designed specifically to facilitate their return downstream. The real problem is that the dams prevent the alewives from returning to the lake once it’s time to spawn, so populations can only be maintained by continually restocking the lake from other sources.

The completion of the fishway at Ladd Dam in Vassalboro will be a major milestone for the Alewife Restoration team, but there is still much work to do. Additional fishways need to be constructed at Box Mill Dam (behind the Olde Mill Place) and at the dam where Outlet Stream flows out of China Lake.

Maine Rivers is actively working to plan the renovations with the community in mind. “We have fairly detailed plans for the fishway that will go here [at Outlet Dam],” says Hudson, “but I’m interested in exploring the idea of making this a more holistic planning and design process to figure out what people in town want and try to make that happen.” One idea is to build a bridge which would serve as a place for visitors to observe the fish migrations.

The team plans to complete construction of a fishway at Box Mill Dam during the summer of 2020, and at the head of Outlet Stream during the summer of 2021. The final step will be tackling Morneau Dam, likely sometime in 2022.

By the spring of 2023, alewives will be returning to China Lake under their own power for the first time in nearly 200 years.

See also:

Construction begins for alewives restoration at Ladd Dam in North Vassalboro

China Lake Association holds 2019 annual meeting

ARI and Ladd Dam fishway update August 2019

The Ladd Dam in North Vassalboro. (Photo by Roland D. Hallee)

The Alewife Restoration Initiative and Ladd Dam fishway construction update will be held on Thursday, August 1, at 6 p.m.

Project partners will meet for an update on the fishway construction and a project overview, at the Olde Mill Place, 934 Main Street, in North Vassalboro, from where they will walk to the site. The rain date is set for Thursday, August 8. The public is welcome.

FMI: contact Matt at 337-2611.

Palermo residents win battle over Sheepscot Lake dam opening

Sheepscot dam

by Carolyn Viens
Sheepscot Lake Assocation

The residents of Palermo have won a major battle in the opposition to LD922, the legislative bill mandating the opening of the Sheepscot Dam to alewives, and other migrating fishes which would have a negative impact on the health of the lake. Representative Jeffrey Pierce of the Maine House of Representatives, and sponsor of LD922, has agreed to withdraw the bill which is currently tabled in the Maine House upon request of Governor Paul LePage.

Following a meeting held with the governor, Mr. Pierce, Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), and Commissioner Keliher of the Maine Deparment of Marine Resources (DMR), it was determined that several expensive steps would need to be taken before such legislation should be considered. These steps include the addition of appropriate biosecurity systems deemed necessary to adequately protect the Palermo rearing station, the securing of funding from private sources to assist in installation of a system meeting the DIF&W criteria, and the determination of the appropriate timeframe to reopen the fish passage for sea run alewife once the necessary measures are in place at the Palermo rearing station. These steps would be extremely expensive and time consuming to complete, and as a result the legislation has been pulled and the removal of the fish gate will not be permitted.

This indefinite postponement is a direct result of the citizens of Palermo and the Sheepscot Lake Association showing their concern repeatedly during town meetings, as well as through communication with government representatives. It would not have been successful without the ongoing involvement of Senate President Michael Thibodeau, who continually gave support throughout this process.

Congratulations to all of you who took the time and made the effort for your voices to be heard through testifying, as well as the untold hours spent contacting legislators, writing letters and articles to the newspapers, and networking with people who could help the cause! It is a testament to the fact that our voices, collectively, were heard and that the government representatives listened! A special thank you for the Long Pond constituents who participated in both research, written articles, and testimony at the hearing, as well as everyone who invested their time and shared their voice, as well as those who listened, and cared. Sheepscot will continue to be the beautiful, pristine, and healthy lake shared by so many each year!

OPINION: Proponents of LD922 uninformed, not concerned

Alewives by John Burrows (source: mainerivers.org)

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Ursula Burke
Certified Water Monitor, Sheepscot Pond

It is alarming that those who favor passing bill LD922 are either uninformed or not concerned with the consequences of opening the fishway at the Sheepscot Pond dam to allow alewife herrings, American eels and sea lamprey eels access to the lake during spring spawning season.

Even the conservationists and environmentalists who tout restoring the historic spawning ground of native fish ignore history which will be repeated if this bill passes. During the 1970’s-80’s the fishway was opened and during seasons of low water levels sea lamprey eels became landlocked. They “wintered over” causing them to feed on the sport fish populations resulting in diminished catches and emaciated togue, landlocked salmon and bass.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife recognized the problem and closed the fishway during the spring spawning season. Now 30 some years later the lamprey population has diminished so that game fish are caught without lamprey wounds. They are healthier and of normal weight. The lake now hosts several fishing derbies every year.

If the supporters of LD922 were not distracted by the profit motive of alewife harvesting to supply bait for the lobster industry, they would take notice of the turnaround Sheepscot Pond has made and recognize the value of such a healthy and prolific lake to the community and all who now enjoy its recreational attributes not to mention supporting the tax base for Palermo.

LD922 offers us, the true stakeholders of Palermo and Sheepscot Pond, nothing but risk. It tramples on the rights of the “little guy” and feels downright un-American and wrong.

Have an opinion about something? You could be featured in our Community Commentary section! Send us an email at townline@fairpoint.net or visit our contact page.

Palermo residents speak up about Sheepscot fishway

Submitted by Lynda Pound, member of the Sheepscot Lake Association.

Alewives

Although a major snow storm was bearing down on Palermo, over a hundred town residents assembled in Augusta for a hearing on the bill L.D. 922 on February 7, before the Marine Resources Committee, in Augusta. This bill proposed that Marine Resources would take control of the dam on Sheepscot Lake from the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife in order to open the fishway to migratory fishes during the spawning season from April 15 to June 30. The fishes that would come up through the fishway would be alewives (to be used as bait fish for the lobster industry), Sea Lamprey, and American Eels. According the Andy Goode, of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, there would be no Salmon.

Testifying before the Marine Resources Committee were members of the Sheepscot Lake Association, a representative from the Palermo Select Board, many concerned citizens of Palermo, legislators and residents of Long Pond, and other concerned Maine citizens….most all in opposition to this bill.

The Sheepscot Lake Association and Palermo residents wanted legislators to know that they are profoundly against this opening for multiple reasons. These include threatened biosecurity of the fish rearing station from alewives entering the lake during spawning season, damage to the valuable self sustaining wild togue (lake trout) population, parasitic sea lamprey entering the lake during spawning season, and potential negative impact on the tax base of Palermo from fluctuating water levels.

Vehement opposition to this controversial bill was in clear evidence. Proponents of L.D. 922 made it clear that they did not think that there would be any problems with opening the fishway during spawning season. During testimony, it emerged that there have been no recent environmental impact studies done for Sheepscot Lake. Thus, it is not known how damaging this proposed opening would be, to either the lake or the fish rearing station. After hearing the lengthy testimony presented to them, the Marine Resources Committee members adjourned, having set a date for an upcoming workshop to vote on the bill.

On February 14, the committee reconvened to discuss L.D. 922. Much written testimony had been given to each legislator and a lively debate ensued. Proponents of the bill felt that opening the fishway during spawning season would not pose a significant risk to the fish rearing station, nor would it negatively impact the deep water fishery or the recreational use of the lake. Written testimony from the opposing side, the citizens of Palermo, contained specific information about past history with the fishway having been opened during spawning season in the era of the late ‘60s, and ‘70s. A proliferation of sea lamprey, who were unable to get out of the lake after spawning, attacked both salmon and togue. According to a written document from Inland Fish and Wildlife, deep water fish caught during this time were scarred with multiple wounds from sea lamprey. More information from Inland Fish and Wildlife outlined the high cost of equipment that would have to be installed in order to protect the rearing station from potential viruses and pathogens, if the alewives and sea lamprey were allowed to enter the lake. After much deliberation, the committee voted 8 – 4, ought to pass. At this point, the bill will be forwarded to the legislature for more debate and a vote.

It should be noted that the Maine Governor, Paul LePage, has written a letter to the Commissioners of Marine Resources and Inland Fish and Game asking them to keep the fishway as it is now, requesting that other bodies of water could be used for raising and harvesting alewives.

Community Commentary: Palermo Commissioners to work together to manage dam

Sheepscot dam

Community Commentary

by Rep. Jeffrey K. Pierce

Re: Legislative hearing scheduled Sheepscot Dam Issue:

I am a life-long fisherman and have spent many afternoons by a lake or pond, fishing for brook trout or togue. Having healthy populations of fish and access to fish for them is very important to me and my family. As the executive director of Alewife Harvesters of Maine, I am committed to restoring all river fish species, not just alewives, to promote healthy and vital fisheries throughout our state. As you said in your article, healthy fisheries are a vibrant part our communities and homes.

My bill, LD 922, An Act Directing the Commissioner of Marine Resources To Investigate the Conditions of Sheepscot Pond Related to a Management Plan for Anadromous Fish Species, prompts “The Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shall cooperate with the commissioner [Department of Marine Resources] in carrying out the provisions of section 6171 for the management of anadromous fish species and habitat.” Thus, the commissioner of IFW and DMR are prompted to work together to manage the Sheepscot Dam. The Sheepscott Dam is currently open ten out of twelve months of the year, so my proposal suggests that the dam should have free fish passage in the two months that the dam is currently closed. This will not negatively impact water levels of the pond or river since the dam is open almost year-round.

This bill also states that the conditions of Sheepscot Pond will be monitored should the dam be opened in the spring. This monitoring will prevent any negative effects on current populations of fish that are landlocked during the springtime. To date there are no cases of alewives carrying VEN so that is not a concern for other fish populations. About four miles downstream from Sheepscot Pond at Coopers Mills Dam there is an active alewife fishery and they have had no problems with alewives effecting water quality or fish populations. I would encourage anyone to speak with residents of nearby Webber Pond. Alewives were introduced there a number of years ago and they currently have very clean water and an active alewife harvest that benefits the local community.

The Aqua, Animal, and Health Technical Committee is a committee comprised of individuals from the Department of Marine Resources, Inland Fish and Wildlife, NOAA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with other science-based organizations. In 2017, they reviewed “the question of increased disease risk associated with opening passage to alewives and river herring” and they recommended “that the opening of the Sheepscot Pond fishway did not constitute a significant added risk over current practices.”

VASSALBORO: Selectmen to bid out new alewives harvest contract

by Mary Grow

At their Jan. 25 meeting, Vassalboro selectmen acted on waste-hauling bids and decided to bid out the new contract for harvesting alewives.

The board had five bids to haul solid waste after April 1, first to the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock and later to the new Fiberight facility in Hampden.

Town Manager Mary Sabins said Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee representing Vassalboro and other Maine municipalities that intend to use the Fiberight facility, advised her to plan on at least six months’ use of Crossroads. Each company bidding offered different prices for the two hauls; Sabins did some math, based on the estimated six months, and recommended Vassalboro stay with the current hauler, Bolster’s Rubbish Removal, of Burnham.

Bolster’s charges during the one-year contract will be $200 per trip to Crossroads and $225 per trip to Fiberight. The company is the only bidder willing to remove a full container from Vassalboro’s transfer station on 12 hours’ notice; the other four asked for 24 hours’ notice. Sabins said Transfer Station Manager George Hamar is happy with Bolster’s service.

The town’s three-year contract with Ronald Weeks to harvest alewives at the Webber Pond dam ends this year. On advice from Nate Gray of the Department of Marine Resources, selectmen decided to seek bids for a new five-year contract. They emphasized that they are not dissatisfied with Weeks.

Gray recommended a five-year contract because alewives born in Webber Pond return to the ocean for four years and come back to spawn the fifth year. The harvester thus has an incentive to make sure he or she leaves a generous number of fish for the future.

There are 22 alewife runs in Maine, as dams are removed on rivers like the Kennebec to let the small fish go inland. Gray said Vassalboro did well to create a sustainable harvest so quickly.

Alewives are trapped as they return from the ocean in May and early June and sold to be used as lobster bait. Gray said increased need for bait has raised the price in recent years. It is standard procedure, he said, for the town to get one-third of the sale proceeds and the harvester two-thirds.

Board members discussed costs of counting the fish, ways to provide information the state and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission request annually and perhaps adding a count of fish sold. They asked Sabins to draft a proposed contract for their review, with Gray’s input.

In other business Jan. 25, selectmen renewed the liquor license for Natanis Golf Course on a 2-0 vote, with board member and Natanis owner Robert Browne absent due to illness.

They approved a resident’s request to tap sugar maples in Union Cemetery.

Sabins and board and audience members commended Road Commissioner Eugene Field for checking Vassalboro’s roads during the night whenever the weather forecast is doubtful and for calling out the road crew when they are needed.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus announced a Feb. 11 fishing derby sponsored by the Vassalboro Business Association. More information is on the town website.

The next two Vassalboro selectmen’s meetings are scheduled for Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 (a one-week interval instead of the usual two weeks to avoid meeting during school vacation week) at 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room. The 2018-19 municipal budget will be a major topic at both meetings. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, selectmen hold a budget workshop at 1 p.m. in the town office.

Time change on LD 922 legislative hearing

Sheepscot dam

On Wednesday, February 7, at 10 a.m., (NOTE: time change) the Maine State Legislature will hold a hearing regarding LD 922. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Pierce, (Dresden) proposes giving control of the dam on Sheepscot Pond to the Dept. Of Marine Resources after decades of successful management by the Dept. Of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It also mandates opening the dam at Sheepscot Pond to alewives, sea lamprey, and other migratory anadromous fish without regard to the historical problems of such a move. The hearing will be in Room 206 at the Burton M Cross Building, 111 Sewall Street, Augusta. The Sheepscot Lake Association, the Palermo Town Select Board, and a large percentage of Palermo residents oppose this legislation for several reasons. See the cover story of the January 25, 2018, issue of The Town Line.