Do you recognize these fish?
They are anadromous alewives, also known as river herring. These small fish leave the ocean and swim upriver to spawn each May and June in Maine ponds and lakes. They provide food and cover for other migrating fish and are a critical part of the food chain in the ocean. Because so many Maine rivers are blocked by dams, the number of alewives has dipped dangerously low, so much so that the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering listing them under the Endangered Species Act. Through a series of legal actions, this trend is reversing.
For 150 years, alewives have been unable to swim upstream to spawn in the Presumpcot River. They have been blocked by a series of dams. The first dam in the series, the Cumberland Mills Dam, is at Sappi’s paper mill in Westbrook.
What’s changed at the Cumberland Mills Dam?
In 2009, in a proceeding initiated and prosecuted by CLF and the Friends of the Presumpscot River, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife ordered Sappi to construct a fishway through the dam. After two years of construction, the nearly five million dollar fishway is completed and will enable fish to pass above the dam. It opened with fanfare on May 1, 2013 and awaits the spring migration of alewives and shad.
Sappi now has another two years to build a fishway at its next dam upstream, and then as the fish return to their native habitat must construct fish passage at four other dams beyond that. The timing will depend on how many fish migrate up the river. CLF’s Executive Vice President Sean Mahoney, with another attorney for the Friends of the Presumpscot River, spear-headed the petition that has led to the re-opening of the river to alewives and shad.
Sappi plans to create a webpage which will in part track the progress of alewives up the river. We will share that resource when we have it. Keep checking back here, on CLF Scoop, for more!