Alewives that struggle, sometimes with little success, to gain access to Upper and Lower Patten Pond from Patten Stream are getting help from the Surry Alewives Committee.
Two hundred and fifty thousand alewives migrate up Patten Stream each year, heading for Upper and Lower Patten Pond, said committee member Susan Hand Shetterly.
“Maybe a few get up [into the ponds], but most bash themselves on the rocks,” Shetterly said.
The alewife run long supported a commercial harvest, but collapsed in the 1970s due to a number of factors, including the difficulty the fish had in accessing the pond from a culvert under Route 172. The culvert is built on bedrock and squeezes the stream to the point where a simple, wooden ladder would be insufficient.
The Surry Alewives Committee was formed as a “rogue” committee” three and a half years ago, Shetterly said, and made official by selectmen last winter. With help from Slade Moore, of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment, the committee began to work on a design plan to restore the run.
Selectmen signed an agreement on September 3 for environmental engineering firm Wright-Pierce of Topsham to create a fish design and construction project plan—a weir and pool system that would raise the water level in the culvert, prohibit washout flow and allow the fish to pass naturally through.
“That’s kind of a technical description of what amounts to a ladder,” said Selectman Dale Sprinkle, who has not yet seen the project plan.
The plan was funded through grants procured by Moore.
“Alewives are determined swimmers, but they can’t do the impossible,” Moore stated in a press release. “This spring I watched the stream brimming with thousands of alewives that couldn’t get through the road crossing…Provide them with access to spawning habitat and they’ll do the rest.”
The cost of implementing the plan is around $80,000, Shetterly said.
Why is the Patten Stream alewife run important?
Alewives are the “secret ingredient” to restoring ground fish, Shetterly said, like cod, who feed on young alewives.
“If we want to restore our fisheries along the coast, we have to restore alewives,” she said.
Sprinkle agreed. “It’s a project that we really need, not just for Surry, but for everybody,” he said. “It is a major alewife run, so that it’s important that it be done.”
The Patten Stream alewife run is also a piece of Surry history, Shetterly said. Smoked alewives were a common food in the town two generations ago. In addition, a restored alewife fishery would generate income for the town through issuing alewife licenses and assessing a percentage of the catch.
Currently, the Patten Pond alewife population is sustained by the Department of Marine Resources, who stock the waters, and the efforts of committee members, who use dip nets and temporary fish ladders to help fish up and over from Patten Stream.
Jim Dickinson, who owns both banks of the stream at the project site, has allowed the committee and the project team access to the site.
Grants from Blue Hill Heritage Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the town of Surry have raised $4,500, and the committee is now looking into grants to fund the project.
Sprinkle said there is grant funding available for a run “that would have a real impact” on the alewife population.