Nequasset Alewife Harvest History

Alewives have been harvested from Nequasset Lake for hundreds of years.

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The fish ladder is located near the heart of town, and has been an important site throughout Woolwich’s history.
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Courtesy of the Woolwich Historical Society

Nequasset Lake was important to the Native Americans and early setters of Woolwich just as it is to residents today. Native Americans caught large quantities of alewives as the fish came up the falls to spawn in the lake and streams every three years. The Native Americans dried and smoked the fish for their use in winter when other food was scarce. They also taught the first white settlers how to dry and smoke the alewives for their own use.

Old town laws in Woolwich gave widows residing in the town two bushels of alewives free a year, for the asking.  These old rules are kept alive, and to this day, Woolwich widows are able to stop by the harvest site for their fish.

The harvest continues today, with alewives sold smoked or fresh

Nequasset is one of Maine’s 19 remaining alewife runs still open to a commercial harvest. The town contracts out the management of the alewife harvest, and the fishing takes place below the dam.  The same local family has been managing the Nequasset alewife harvest for long term sustainability for over 60 years.

The harvest chute, the fish house, and the smoke house are the three key parts of the Nequasset alewife harvest. The fish are harvested Thursday through Sunday from sunrise to sunset, whenever they are running.

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Nequasset alewife harvest area
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Once the fish enter the harvest area, they are escorted along toward the harvest site. Screens are used to block off the path and keep the fish in one area.









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Once enough fish have been herded to the end of the chute, they are lifted up in a net.
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The net is emptied into a large wooden box, and the fish are measured out from here by the bushel basket for sale.

Alewives are either sold by the bushel for lobster bait or sold singly, salted and cold smoked.  Adult alewives are preferred bait for the spring lobster fishery in Maine and eaten smoked by people hankering for a traditional taste. Watch for bones!

Smoked alewives awaiting sale. 75 cents apiece!
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Alewives are sold by the bushel as bait. This wire bushel basket is used to measure out the right amount of fish. About 120 fish are in each bushel.















Return to Nequasset Fish Ladder Restoration Project webpage