BENTON — The solar was shining, music was taking part in and brightly coloured paper fish adorned by native elementary college college students greeted guests to the eighth annual Benton Alewife Competition right here on Saturday.
Close by, on the Benton Falls Dam, fishermen waded via the Sebasticook River, crammed with so lots of the silvery fish that the alewives appeared nearly to be leaping out of the water as they flapped in opposition to one another.
The harvesting season for alewives, which generally are used as bait by Maine lobstermen, often wraps up round June 1.
For the final a number of years, the city has organized a pageant to have a good time the alewives’ exceptional comeback because the elimination of two dams that beforehand blocked entry to spawning grounds.
The fish inhabitants at Benton Falls, estimated at simply 400,000 in 2008, jumped to a file 5.7 million final 12 months, which in flip is producing hundreds of dollars from the harvest.
In the meantime, the China Lake Alewife Restoration venture is aiming to bolster the alewives’ spawning habitat even additional in central Maine.
“It’s actually thrilling to come back right here and see there may be an alewife harvest going down that’s connecting completely different components of society collectively in a restoration story that’s completely exceptional on the East Coast of the US,” mentioned Landis Hudson, govt director of Maine Rivers, a nonprofit group targeted on the ecological well being of Maine’s rivers.
This summer season marks 20 years because the elimination of Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Augusta.
That dam elimination, together with the elimination of the Fort Halifax dam in Winslow in 2011, has made it doable for alewives to journey as soon as once more to the Sebasticook River to spawn – one thing that beforehand hadn’t been doable because the mid-1800s.
“Beginning in 2008 once they took out that dam, abruptly all these fish have been in a position to come up,” mentioned Amy Gagnon, director of the Benton Alewife Competition. “It went from principally zero alewives to 200,000 to 1 million to five million.”
On Saturday, as a part of the pageant, guests on the Benton Falls Dam might tour the fish elevator that brings the foot-long silvery alewives up and over the dam and watch as fishermen harvested them.
Nate Grey, a scientist with the Maine Division of Marine Assets, mentioned of the 5.7 million fish that made it to the dam final 12 months, about 650,000 of them have been harvested by fishermen.
The quantity included a rise of greater than 2 million fish from the earlier 12 months, one thing Grey mentioned might be attributed to 2 elements.
First, he mentioned blueback herring, that are included within the division’s fish rely at Benton Falls and make up about 20 % of the inhabitants, have been surging in inhabitants and including to the numbers.
Secondly, he mentioned, a discount in habitat for different species that eat the alewife, such because the Atlantic herring, means extra alewives are surviving and making it upstream to spawn.
At Benton Falls, Grey mentioned he doesn’t foresee the variety of fish that make it over the falls to develop a lot past 5 million to six million, as there’s a mounted quantity of habitat and solely so many fish might be supported.
However environmental teams close by are also engaged on opening up China Lake to alewives, a course of that can require the elimination of dams or building of fish passageways at six dam websites on a stretch of Outlet Stream in Vassalboro.
Two of these dams, Lombard Dam and Masse Dam, have already got been eliminated as a part of the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative, a venture of Maine Rivers and companions together with the Sebasticook Regional Land Belief, the Division of Marine Assets and others.
Hudson, the manager director of Maine Rivers, mentioned Saturday there’s no agency timeline for the venture’s completion, however the group does plan to put in a fish ladder at Ladd Dam this summer season and subsequent 12 months will have a look at an answer for a fourth dam, Field Mill Dam.
The advantages of restoring alewife spawning habitats are quite a few, she mentioned, and embody not solely the increase to the fish themselves but additionally the encompassing ecological surroundings.
Alewives are a typical meals supply for different marine creatures, together with bigger fish and whales, in addition to for animals and birds.
“It’s true we have now seen rebounding eagle and osprey populations,” Hudson mentioned. “I’m fairly positive the explanation eagle populations are a lot extra sturdy than they have been 30 years in the past is as a result of there’s extra meals within the river.”
Folks at Saturday’s pageant additionally might pattern smoked alewives totally free, an providing that about 20 folks had explored halfway via Saturday’s occasion, mentioned volunteer Justice Champagne, who was handing out the samples – every one consisting of a whole fish, together with pores and skin and eyes.
“From what I hear, they’re fairly bony,” Champagne mentioned, “however I feel most individuals prefer it.”
With the alewife harvest additionally comes an financial profit. In accordance with the division, the worth of final 12 months’s statewide harvest was $677,530.
Benton collects a portion of that cash in alternate for the rights to fish the water, although the precise quantity the city collected wasn’t accessible Saturday.
“It’s been fairly an earnings in some methods for the city,” mentioned Gagnon, the director of the pageant. “It’s additionally develop into an attraction for visiting folks, due to the eagles. Folks truly name the City Workplace asking once they can come see eagles and once they’ll be on the market for them to see.”
After final 12 months’s alewife pageant was canceled due to rain, Gagnon mentioned it was essential to residents to see it proceed.
“It actually is a superb image for the realm,” she mentioned. “I feel it’s an essential factor for the city and we needed to verify it didn’t fade away.”
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