News & Events
Alewives in Woolwich: History, Economy and Ecology
Local experts and officials documenting the annual alewife run in Woolwich share the results of their work in a panel discussion on Thursday, June 7 2012 at 6:30 pm at the historic Nequasset Meetinghouse in Woolwich. Alewives are small fish that spend most of their lives in the ocean but return to fresh water to spawn. They have been identified as a significant link in the ecology of Maine’s waters, and the Town of Woolwich has provided fish passage into Nequasset Lake since at least 1780 and provisions for harvesting the fish as well.
Sponsored by the Woolwich Historical Society, the program will focus on the local as well as the regional and national impact of alewives. Since the 1920s, the Bath Water District has owned the dam and the fish ladder because Nequasset Lake serves as the local water supply. The BWD has plans to replace the fish ladder, and enlisted the help of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, which is coordinating what is called an “eyeball count” of fish entering the lake this spring.
From Woolwich, speakers include Fish Commissioner Bill Potter, historians Debbie Locke and Allison Hepler, and former alewife harvester Dick Hanson. The regional significance is explained by Trevor Hunt from the Bath Water District, and Alicia Heyburn from the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust. Finally, Bowdoin College professor John Lichter connects the ecological role of the alewife from Nequasset to the estuary and the Gulf of Maine. Historic and recent photographs and recent video footage of the process complement the panel’s work.
Alewives form a significant part of the food chain, prey to waterfowl and land creatures alike. The fish ladder is set up in such a way that some alewives “climb” up the fish ladder into the lake while others swim into the fish pound to be harvested. Alewives are popular as lobster bait, with lobster fishermen lining up to buy bushels during the days of the harvest. Harvesting is managed by the town’s fish commissioners, who annually hire a harvester. For the past 50 plus years, it has been Herb Lilly, Jr., and his family. Lilly’s family also provides smoked alewives for those wishing to purchase them.
Woolwich is one of only 19 towns in the state of Maine to maintain a commercial alewife fishery, and the fish is prominently displayed on the town’s seal.
The program starts at 6:30 at the Nequasset Meetinghouse, located on Nequasset Road across the street from the Woolwich Municipal Offices. Light refreshments will be available.
For more information, contact Allison Hepler (442-0754, email@example.com) or Debbie Locke (443-5684, firstname.lastname@example.org), Woolwich Historical Society.Back to News & Events