The Waldoboro Board of Selectmen was scheduled to hold a 20-minute discussion on an alewives harvesting plan at a March 9 meeting.

As fishermen started to come into the meeting room at the town office, like they did Oct. 13 for a workshop on alewives, that schedule was abandoned. The 90-minute debate and discussion that followed focused on the needs of fishermen versus conservation and current data collection and the information needed by state and federal fisheries regulators.

Mike Brown of the Department of Marine Resources gave the state’s view and answered questions from selectmen and fishermen.

Aquaculture specialist Sam Chapman and David Wilkins of the Lloyd Davis Anadromous Fish Trust described the conservation effort and the ongoing alewives counting program.

Fisherman Glen Brown said Waldoboro’s lobstermen need bait, and can get it in their own backyard.

Selectman Theodore Wooster asked pointed questions about dates of acceptable harvests. Selectman Robert Butler tried to focus all the comments on a common theme: the need for accurate alewife counts. Board of Selectmen Chairman Clint Collamore set the scene and said the town has to submit a plan to the DMR to harvest alewives in the Medomak River.

And Town Manager William Post tried to broker a compromise, asking fishermen about their needs and wants, and how to balance that with conservation efforts.

Mike Brown of the DMR said April 20 is the deadline if towns want to submit an alewife harvesting plan and a warrant article for the ballot. He also said the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has issued a moratorium on river herring harvests that will go into effect in 2012, unless a river system is classified as having a sustainable management plan in place. Brown said this is defined as a commercial harvest that does not impact the potential future stock.

Fisherman Glen Brown said lobstermen need to have bait this year, and the town should open up the river until the moratorium goes into effect.

“We should do this for two years,” Glen Brown said. “We’re starving for lobster bait.”

Mike Brown of the DMR gave the state’s recommendation: no alewife harvesting in the Medomak River, but work to get a plan in place for 2012. If the river were fished hard for a couple of years, it could really set back conservation efforts, Mike Brown said.

“That doesn’t help [the fishermen] this year or next year,” Post said.

“We could have two years where we don’t have to pay big money for lobster bait,” Glen Brown said.

Chapman said Washington Pond, which alewives cannot currently reach from the river, should be used to build up the alewife stock. He said Washington Pond has one and a half times the nursing area as the rest of the watershed.

The issue with Washington Pond is that the state, which has approval this year to stock the pond, has a policy that prohibits stocking in a river system that is open to alewife harvesting.

Wilkins said access to Washington Pond has been limited for 50 years, but the Lloyd Davis Anadromous Fish Trust is seeking grants for barrier removal.

“Washington Pond is a huge break in the system,” Wilkins said.

Chapman also said the Lloyd Davis Anadromous Fish Trust has been doing accurate, credible counts of alewives in the Medomak River. Glen Brown agreed on the need for counts, but said many fish were missed in the counts.

Under questioning from the town manager, Glen Brown said he would like fishermen to be able to take 10 crates of alewives each day during the harvest season. There are about 450 fish in a crate.

Wooster and Jen Merritt asked about the precise data that regulators need. Mike Brown said in addition to counts, the state needs information from scale samples on spawn ratios, species type and age, as well as the length and weight of the fish.

While the Board of Selectmen could open the river to harvesting for the next two years, that information will be needed for a sustainable fishery plan for state and federal regulators.