Nequasset Fish Ladder Restoration

Site Information     Project History

2015 Count     2014 Count     2013 Count     2012 Count 

This project aims to replace an old 1955 concrete pool and weir style fish ladder on an active alewife run in Woolwich, Maine in a manner that will ensure maximum fish passage while being easy to maintain and require minimal manipulations to adjust for water flow. The deteriorating structure is incorporated into a dam which impounds Nequasset Lake, and 537 acres of optimal spawning habitat for river herring, as well as a residential drinking water supply for four communities. Both the ladder and dam are important to the town’s infrastructure and culture. Nequasset is one of Maine’s 19 remaining alewife runs still open to a commercial harvest; it has been managed for long term sustainability by the same local family for over 60 years. Replacement of the current structure will ensure access to prime spawning ground for a species considered essential in the restoration of Gulf of Maine.

How it all started…

Bath Water District Superintendent Trevor Hunt learned of the importance of alewives through KELT’s 2010 fall lecture series on ecological recovery. A few days later he came to our office with a plea for help. Could KELT manage an appropriate restoration of the crumbling fish ladder at Nequasset Dam in Woolwich that will ensure maximum fish passage and be easy for his crew to maintain? Since that day, KELT has assisted the Town of Woolwich and the Bath Water District and hopes for a complete rebuild in early fall of  2013.

The existing 1955 concrete pool and weir ladder is incorporated into the dam which impounds Nequasset Lake, and 537 acres of optimal spawning habitat for alewives, a keystone species in the restoration of the Gulf of Maine.


In 2010 the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust completed a survey of over 400 dams and culverts in the lower Kennebec River watershed as part of a statewide effort to inventory fish passage barriers and prioritize habitat restoration projects. Because of the active stakeholder base and amount of suitable habitat above this site, the ladder at Nequasset Dam was selected as the #1 priority for improvement. Less than 5% of spawning ground for anadromous fish remains accessible in the State of Maine due to barriers such as dams and culverts. Fisheries experts estimate that with proper management and improved passage this site can support 400,000 fish. Unfortunately, many Mainers have never seen an alewife run because Maine’s historically thriving alewife population has plummeted during the last two centuries. Dams, pollution and overfishing have taken their toll.

Citizen Science & Funding…

KELT organized the first visual count of fish from April 13-June 3, 2012. Over 75 volunteers signed up to count, some performing the pleasurable task more than a dozen times! KELT has procured $50,000 from the Maine Coastal Program and a NOAA/Trout Unlimited partnership grant to support outreach, planning, design and management. Additional funds have been requested from federal sources, and the Bath Water District has pledged significant funds to assure the success of this important community based restoration project.

Alewives are anadromous fish that spend the majority of their life at sea but return to freshwater to spawn.

Alewives have been an important cultural and economic component of Woolwich Maine for centuries. In 1788 legislation was passed requiring fish passage over Nequasset Dam from May to September. Because of continued careful stewardship, Nequasset is now considered one of top alewife runs in the state.


Alewives are Important!

  • They are food for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, cod, haddock, halibut, American eel, trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, pickerel, pike, white and yellow perch, seabirds, bald eagle, osprey, great blue heron, gulls, terns, cormorants, seals, whales, otter, mink, fox, raccoon, skunk, weasel, fisher, and turtles.
  • Alewives tie our ocean, rivers and lakes together, providing vital nutrients and forage needed to make healthy watersheds.
  • Alewives provide cover for migrating adult and juvenile Atlantic salmon.
  • Adult alewives are preferred bait for the spring lobster fishery.

Recent Media

New Woolwich Fish Ladder: Product of Many Partnerships, Boothbay Register 10.27.2014

Count ‘Jumps’ Over Nequasset Fish Ladder, Times Record 9.24.2014

Nequasset Fish Ladder Nears Completion, Coastal Journal 8.21.2014

New Nequasset Dam Fish Ladder Under Construction, Boothbay Register 8.18.2014

Work Begins on Fish Ladder, Times Record 7.29.2014

Casco Bay Stories: Steve Bodge, 7.21.2014

Big Changes in Store for Woolwich Dam, Fish Ladder, Boothbay Register 5.27.2014

Fish Counters Needed at Nequasset, Coastal Journal 5.22.2014

Alewives Counted One-By-One On Some Maine Rivers, Portland Press Herald 5.17.2014

Counting on One Last Run: Nequasset Fish Ladder Set to Be Replaced This Summer, Times Record 5.16.2014

Two Fish Ladders, An Ocean Lover in Maine blog, 5.14.2014

Fish Counters Needed at Nequasset Dam: Now- June, Bangor Daily News 5.2.2014

Herb Lilly, A Midcoast Legacy in the Form of Fish, Coastal Journal 5.1.2014

Restoring the Alewives: A Natural Phenomenon As Old As the Coast Returns, Coastal Journal 4.24.2014