If the alewives in St. George are back, where have they been? The answer is absent without offspring. For years. But change is coming.

Students at the St. George School formed a bucket brigade last spring to stock the marsh in Tenants Harbor with young alewives provided by the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Now the students and the community are preparing for the return in four years of mature females. Each spawning female will leave 60,000 to 100,000 eggs to hatch in the marsh. If the females can’t leap the existing culvert four years from now, the students will be at it again with a bucket brigade acting as midwives to the spawners.

Speculation about the culvert and other parts of the alewives project will be explored at a community event Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. in the St. George Town Office. Students, their families and attendees can watch a short video of the historic first stocking in spring 2009. There will also be a viewing of the film of the alewives restoration in Damariscotta, “Closing the Circle.” To answer questions from the curious and help make plans for the spawning, attendees will have longtime alewives supporter John Shea of Martinsville, Nate Gray of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and Sam Chapman of the restoration project in Waldoboro.

Restoring the alewives in St. George is more than a useful project for the school children. The return of alewives and the other river herring, the blueback herring, is supported by the Department of Marine Resources in a statewide program. Break it gently to the bucket brigade that alewives are eaten by many birds and many other species of fish. Historically, in the spring, they were baitfish for lobstermen. They also provide a diversion for fish-eating birds in spring that might otherwise be eating juvenile Atlantic salmon migrating downriver. The Department of Marine Resources has other interesting information about river herring under “Species Information” in its listing on the maine.gov Web site.

Home-baked refreshments and beverages will be available on Jan. 21 courtesy of the co-sponsors, the St. George Conservation Commission and the Friends of St. George. For more information call 372-8114 or 372-6459.