Thursday, May 23, 2013
BENTON -- Call it an alewife comeback.
NET PROFITS: Alewife fishermen Tom Keister, left, and Jim Wootten carry nets full of alewives caught below the Benton Hydro dam this week.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Earlier this month, a drastically smaller harvest of the fish from the Sebasticook River seemed to point to a short and less successful venture this year for fishermen and the town of Benton.
With warmer water temperatures, however, has come a surge in alewives at the Benton Falls Hydro Dam that has led to a modest, if late, boost.
As of Friday, the town had received $9,600 in income from the harvest -- more than a $6,000 increase from a week ago, when the harvest seemed as though it might end soon.
Last year's first-ever alewife harvest in Benton yielded $19,108 in new revenue for the town. Rick Lawrence, the town's alewife warden, said fishermen could be harvesting for another couple of days next week if there is demand for the bait fish. The town contracts with Ronnie Weeks, of Jefferson, whose crew nets the alewives, loads them into large crates and sells them as bait.
The alewife increase has come late in the allowable harvesting window, which ends about June 6.
On a sunny, windy Thursday afternoon, fishermen were hauling crates of the fish from the river. Each crate weighs about 250 pounds and is pulled up a chute by a motorized winch.
On a slope overlooking the river near the Benton Falls Dam were Joe Pomerleau and Jamie Kaizer, who said they were having trouble getting herring, so alewife would do as a premium lobster bait. They wanted to purchase 14 crates, at a cost of about $840.
"I think as long as it's letting plenty of fish go over the dam, it's sustainable and it's a good resource," Pomerleau said.
Jim Wotton, of Friendship, who was assisting in the harvest, said the alewife harvest had amounted to about half as much as last year, though there could still be a few more days of harvesting left, depending on demand. That's better than the outlook two weeks ago, when only about one-tenth of last year's harvest had arrived.
"They're just getting here now," Wotton said of the alewives, "but that's bad for us, because the market for them is drying up. Hopefully, we'll be back next week."
Benton's first alewife harvest last year was made possible by the removal of the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow in 2008, enabling the fish to continue upstream to Benton, where they pass through a fish lift at the dam. Last year's run was about 1.6 million fish -- about 1.3 million passed through the dam's fish lift, and fishermen harvested nearly 300,000, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Alewives swim downstream and into the ocean, and those that survive return to the river four years later to spawn upstream, laying hundreds of thousands of eggs, before returning to the sea, according to Lawrence.
Alewives travel as far north as Stetson Pond near Newport. More than 1 million fish had passed over the dam's lift this week.
Lawrence said cooler temperatures a few weeks back probably stymied alewives from traveling upstream; "but since the weather has turned, the fish have really turned around. We're coming close to last year's figures for sustainable fish."
"It's attributable to these mysterious fish," he said. "(They) seem to have done just as well with half the number spawned as the year before. It's suprising everybody."
Scott Monroe -- 861-9253