Here Come the Alewives

By Phil Crossman | Jun 16, 2017

This week, the Department of Marine Resources returns to Vinalhaven for the second installment of "Here Come the Alewives."

As reported last year, Old Harbor Pond had long been rumored to be home to a substantial alewife population. Ruth Ames, 96 at the time, recorded an interview a few years ago in which she recalled with some specificity the alewives in Old Harbor Pond, the excitement of watching them head upstream to the pond and downstream to the ocean, and of their being harvested.

That was good enough for the DMR, which had undertaken a program of re-introduction of the once-plentiful species to various state waterways, a program that has gathered quite a head of steam. Last year, 1,500 mature fish were deposited at the south end of Old Harbor Pond. Modest obstructions at the north end were removed, the fish spawned and headed out to sea, and the pond soon became home to roughly 120,000,000 fish larvae, each hoping to reach an inch and a half or so before heading out to sea themselves a few weeks later.

By then they will have miraculously imprinted on the particular characteristics of Old Harbor Pond — to such an extent that those fish, having been roaming about the North Atlantic for four years, will return to the pond in 2020 as if they each had a GPS, to spawn themselves. Another 1,500 mature fish are being introduced to the pond this week, the second of four installments. The DMR will be back next year, and again in 2019, to repeat this immigration (don’t let the administration find out), and in 2020 the cycle of returning fish will be complete and, hopefully, self-sustaining.

Perhaps we could then look at an annual cycle of marketable alewives attended upstream by hungry trout and in the ocean by, for example, striped bass, cod and haddock. If that happens, we can approach the harvesting of those species a little more carefully than we have in the past.

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