The annual alewife migration is in full swing. These anadromous fish run up the rivers all along the Maine coast in their effort to reach spawning habitat in lakes and ponds. The adult alewives drop back down the rivers to the ocean soon after they have completed spawning. The young of the year alewives begin their trip to the sea starting in July, peaking late August into early October. The large, nutrient-rich adults are important forage for early arriving striped bass. If you've fished with us in the fall you know how the stripers love to gorge on the juvenile alewives in preparation for the long trip south.
Watching the alewives navigate falls and fish ladders is an annual rite of spring for many of us in coastal Maine. The alewives are an important, early source of lobster bait when other fish are scarce. Some of the runs are managed by towns with rights sold to the highest bidder. The Department of Marine Resources works with a number of dam operators to ensure alewife passage at other locations.
At the Brunswick Hydro facility, the DMR moves these fish over the dam and also runs a "trap and truck" operation. Some of the alewives that ascend the fish ladder are held in oxygenated tanks and then delivered to pods and lakes via truck. The alewives reach spawning habitat where upstream passage is blocked by dams. The adults, and eventually the juveniles, are able to descend from the lake or pond to return to the salt water.
- More than 6,000 alewives have come through the fish passage so far this season.
- The DMR moved over 80,000 alwives last year.
- The 3 to 5 trucks per day are delivering fish to Sabattus Pond, Taylor Pond, Marshall Pond, Bog Brook and other locations.
- Suckers and brook trout are entering the fish passage. No sign yet of atlantic salmon or striped bass.
- The run will peak towards the end of May. Florida Power & Light will open their viewing room at the fish ladder this week, Wednesdays through Sundays 1:00 to 5:00 PM.
If you are around the coast during May, check out one of the alewife runs. You'll be fascinated as you watch these energetic fish clear ledges and falls or ascend a fish ladder. You'll also race home to get your striper fishing tackle organized or to tie up some alewife flies.
Capt. Peter Fallon