Monday, June 21, 2010

Presumpscot River Alewives

This is an underwater video I made in June 2009 showing native alewives returning to their spawning pond, Duck Pond, also known as Highland Lake, in Westbrook, Maine. It is a tributary of the Presumpscot River via Mill Brook.

Unlike resident freshwater fish, alewives spend most of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean but are born in freshwater ponds. At the age of 3-4 they return to freshwater, to the same pond where they were born, to spawn. The babies spend the summer in the pond growing to a length of 4-5 inches and then migrate to the ocean in the fall. Unlike other migratory fish such as Pacific salmon and sea lamprey, alewives do not die after spawning and often make several return trips from the ocean to spawn during their lifetime. They reach a maximum length of 14 inches.

Prior to the mid 1800s nearly every coastal river and stream in New England supported multiple runs of alewives, one run to each lake and pond in the drainage, except where blocked by natural falls. Dam building on rivers and streams wiped out most of New England's alewife runs by the early 1900s. By the 1970s only a handful of alewife runs were left.

The Highland Lake alewife run was wiped out in the 1730s when a dam was built at Presumpscot Falls, at the river's head of tide, sparking a war with local Indians. Repeated orders by the Massachusetts Legislature in the 1700s to provide fish passage at Presumpscot Falls were ignored by the dam owners. The alewife run was restored in the 1980s when fishways were built at the pond's small outlet dam and at the Smelt Hill Dam at Presumpscot Falls. After being wrecked by a severe flood in 1996, the Smelt Hill Dam was completely removed in 2002 by cooperative agreement with the dam owner, Central Maine Power, and state and federal fisheries agencies and the non-profit Coastal Conservation Association. Here's the full story.

This movie features music by Maine artist Conni St. Pierre of Bethel, Maine and recorded at the Outlook studio in Bethel. This is quite fitting because the headwater of the Presumpscot River drainage is Songo Pond in Bethel. Funding for the filming and production was provided by Friends of Sebago Lake.

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