Report to the Conservation Commission from the Saint George Eighth Grade June 6, 2019

The 8th grade collaboratively produced a report to the St. George Conservation Commission.  Here are the contents of their report.  Their work leaves the community better than before and is something to be very proud of. (A link to the full report with images can be accessed here.)

Report to the Conservation Commission from the Saint George Eighth Grade June 6, 2019

Our Community

The town of St. George includes the villages of Tenants Harbor, Martinsville, Long Cove, Spruce Head, Port Clyde, Clark Island, and Glenmere. St. George is located in Knox County in the midcoast of Maine. This small town, a favorite among artists, writers and naturalists was first settled on February 7, 1803. As of the 2010 Census the Town’s population was 2,591, most of those being from the ages of 55 to 64.

Historically, a typical North American Shad, the alewife (​Alosa pseudoharengus)​ has bred in the Marsh in Tenants Harbor. The Marsh contains about eighty-three acres of freshwater. Within the Marsh there is a seventy-five foot outlet stream, varying in width from five to twenty feet. The stream flows underneath Route 131, through the culvert, newly placed in 2015 out into Ripley Creek. Ripley Creek is a straight and relatively narrow tidal creek. The creek travels about a quarter of a mile before passing between two large boulders that transition the creek into the harbor.

Problem Statement

Alewives spawned in our Marsh until about 1985 or 1986, when the “switch was flipped” and plenty of fish one year, turned into none the next. The problem was discovered, that the new culvert that had been installed under Route 131 was “perched” too high for the fish to pass through, preventing them from spawning and quickly eliminating our local population. For years the town has worked hard to restore our run, installing a new culvert with weirs, creating pools for the fish to rest in, and restocking fish with the help of the Department of Marine Resources, although so far the efforts have not been all too successful, seeing only single digit numbers of fish in the last year. With prompting from Jonathan Coggeshall and the Conservation Commission, we took on the task to design and construct a fish ladder, improve the pools created in years past, and look for returning alewives.

Lydia Myers


St George has a history of the alewives returning to the marsh in May to spawn. There is the history of the alewives being an important food source at the end of a bad winter. Widows were allowed a free bushel. The alewives are important for lobster bait. They are also important as a part of the food chain. They exist to be eaten and without them, fin fish like Cod do not have food.

Why did they stop returning to the marsh? Before a raised culvert was installed under Route 131, there was a bridge spanning granite abutments, with a gravel bottom that was a perfect fish passage. The State replaced it with a round steel culvert that was “perched” too high for the fish to get into. The fish will swim like crazy but not jump more than 6-12 inches.

With John Shea’s suggestion, the Conservation Commission started to restore the alewife run about ten years ago. Between 500 and 1000 alewives have been stocked from another run, probably the Kennebec, for four or five years. There is now a good culvert for fish passage. The fish are such courageous swimmers. They will get up to the marsh if they can.

The alewives have not come back as well as we would like. The majority opinion is that they are having trouble getting in or out, or both. The sandbags do make a pool where the fish can rest for the next step. A better channel from the culvert up-stream would help. Also, a fish ladder from the pool to the dam would get the fish over the low dam into the marsh.

I have been talking to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR), and they would like to have monitoring of temperature, oxygen saturation, salinity, pH, and mapping of the bottom.

Today, I am asking if you would help the town of St George restore the alewife run into the marsh. You could help by doing research and deciding on a design and construction of a fish ladder. Improvement of the pools and channel will go a long way to providing access to the marsh. Also, some monitoring of flow, temperature, oxygen saturation, salinity, and pH would demonstrate to DMR the quality of this water body.

Jonathan Coggeshall
St. George Conservation Commission

Part I – Community History Summaries

Early History

John York’s Mill (1788)

John York’s ancestor George York owned 168 acres of land that bordered the outlet of Marsh Creek, as it was known then. According to the town records of Cushing, which included Saint George, the deed was from Henry Knox. George York had mentioned an heir that would inherit his land and it turns out, that heir was John York. John York’s mill was also one of the places mentioned in public notices to gather for town meetings. He could have been using that mill with a small dam to harness water and it could have been a tidal mill.

Shaun Hopkins, Zeke Miller

The Davis Brother’s 10 Year Agreement (1890)

Based on an 1857 map of Tenant’s Harbor found in the basement of the Town Office, we found that our marsh was significantly smaller in size than it is now.

John Falla shared a brief history about the Davis Brothers and their Ice House agreement, which could be the reason
we have a larger marsh today. According to Mr. Falla, the Davis Brothers went into the business of producing ice in the
year of 1890. There was a deed showing a ten- year agreement between the Davis Brothers and the land owners. The deed stated that the Davis Brothers could raise the marsh’s water level by five feet with the impact of building a dam. It is said that the ice business and the ice house may have lasted until around 1910.

Now Ripley Creek leads from the marsh and falls out from a man-made bank of concrete and metal. This could be the remains from the dam.

The ice house would have been found close to the bank of the marsh near today’s Jackson Memorial Library.

Addie McPhail, Lute Campbell

The Tenants Harbor Alewife Run

Randy Elwell

When Randy Elwell came to the 7th grade class this year, he told them how the alewife run was different when he was younger. When he was a young boy, he would go behind the Grace Institute where he remembers using a scale basket to catch some alewives. He then proceeded to tell what a scale basket was. “You know what a scale basket is…They have holes in them to let the water out.” He then went on to explain how everyone in the town would come down to get alewives, some even being students coming straight out of school. You could go out with whatever kind of tool and you would probably get an alewife. There were so many ways you could catch a fish back then. There were even some people who would catch them using illegal methods. At the end Randy was asked questions; one being if he ever ate alewives, to which he responded, “​Oh yeah. My father-in-law smoked ’em for years. He owned a smokehouse.” He then told us about the sales part, “He did it for years and years…Dried fish, salt fish, peel it off and eat it. Do the same thing with the smoked alewives. The older people really liked them. They would heat them up or some people would peel them off and eat them.”

Ella Wirkala

Jeff Falla and Robert Morris

When Jeff Falla and Robert Morris were younger, they would swim and watch fish in Ripley Creek. They saw changes going on and had lots of stories to tell about their times there. Jeff and Robert told about Ripley Creek when they were kids, which helps us understand how much has changed over the last 40 years. First of all, there used to be a house that sat over the creek. There is a stone pillar from it that is still in the creek. The house used to dump sewage into the creek. The waste gave them red blotches all over their skin when they swam. The waste also drew in bottom feeders such as flounder and mackerel. Another thing that changed a lot was the amount of alewives in the run. They told us that there was never a big run, but some lobstermen from Wheeler Bay would come and catch the alewives. There were enough alewives that they could walk around in the water with them and catch them with strainers to throw them over the beaver dam. Now, as most people likely know, the alewife run is almost non-existent. Comparing our current run to the run a while ago is unbelievable, and it’s shocking how something can change so quickly.

Maggie Gill

Lyle Morris

Lyle Morris netted alewives for lobster bait and said that the alewife run was never large. The alewives were caught in Ripley Creek and were caught by around three to five different local people for lobster bait and halibut bait. The alewives would be frozen if the halibut season was over. As a kid, Lyle said he remembers three rock pools that would be fixed up every year so that the alewives would have pools of water to rest in before they go into the marsh with the tide. In 1985, Lyle netted 6-8 bushels in the creek. The next year, Lyle said, “like a switch” the alewives were gone and they stopped coming to the marsh to spawn.

Taylor Warrington

Town Efforts

The Culverts

The original culvert going through Ripley Creek was granite and alewives could easily get through to the marsh. Unfortunately, a metal culvert was put in during the 1970’s and the alewive’s migration path was blocked because the culvert was put in too high. The fish couldn’t pass through to get to the marsh because of this problem. Due to them not being able to get up to the marsh, they couldn’t reproduce, so that their population decreased. Along with this, there was also some harvesting taking place. A new cement culvert was put in during August 2015, and that is at the right elevation and has weirs for the alewives to rest in. It was designed by an engineer specifically for this creek. This was a major improvement, and we have since seen some alewives come up through the culvert to the base of the dam to get to their spawning grounds, the marsh.

Willow McConochie, Laney King

Restocking Efforts

In hopes of bringing back the population of alewives in the marsh, starting in 2009 through 2014 the state issued the town of St.George 250 male and 250 female fish, totaling 500, each year. Every spring during the re-stocking, the current 8th grade class would go down to the marsh and pass fishnets full of the alewives hand to hand, and place them into the marsh. They did this to restore the run of alewivies into the marsh from Ripley Creek because we know that alewives return to their birthplace to spawn three-four years after hatching, returning to the sea to mature. However, only a small fraction of these fish or their offspring have returned. In 2016, approximately 40 of these alewivies returned, but last year only two known alewives returned.

The 8th grade class of 2023, our class, had discovered last year that spring tides would flood the marsh, which we thought could potentially affect reproduction of the alewives. Because of that, the current 7th grade is testing whether any salinity does cause harm to eggs.

So, because of the previously mentioned problems with our run, only a small fraction of these fish returned, but hopefully with our improvements and research, this will change for the better.

Jack Elwell, Henry Weinand, James Cody

Part II – Stream Improvements, 2019

In order to try to restore our alewife run, we have been making the marsh more easily accessible for the alewives to swim into. We have filled about one hundred sandbags and have placed them in Ripley Creek, creating large pools with calm water for the alewives to rest in, as they climb up to the marsh. We also placed a fish ladder modeled on a design used in Quantabacook Lake at the outlet. To clear the way, we moved rocks and gravel, also making a deeper stream, which is easier for the fish to swim through. We began our field work on May 9th, placed the fish ladder in on May 22nd, and concluded our site work on May 31st.

Last year’s 8th grade class had placed about 50 sandbags in the stream; some below the outlet to help retain water near the dam, and others near the granite pillar to create a deeper pool through the middle section of the stream, so we reinforced those and built new structure. We then laid the sandbags in strategic areas to make pools where the current was almost non-existent. This made a resting spot for alewives going up the creek, because swimming up that current is a real challenge.

Here are some details:

At the dam, we moved some rocks to make the channel flatter and easier to place a ladder in. We then built a fish ladder out of wood, which looks like a gutter for the fish to swim up into the marsh. The water flows through the chute and we hope it will help get the alewives up to the marsh. We laid sandbags around the top of the dam, to make the water flow into the ladder more than around it. On the 31st day of May, we doubled the height of the sandbags we had layered on the dam, to conserve the water in the marsh.

Just below the dam, we used some sandbags to decrease the velocity of the current, because as the water from the dam flows over into the ladder, the flow gets really heavy. The current goes straight into the pool, so we made a wall of sandbags that persuaded the current to the left, so the current isn’t as heavy. Then we used lots of sandbags at the downstream side of the main pool to make it deeper.

A few of us used our bare hands to clear out larger rocks that were in the way of the run. We managed to put them on the shore, even though the algae made them super slippery. Once the big rocks were moved, sand bags were placed on both the left and right side of the creek, to create a deeper and more narrow run, up to the pool.

We also took shovels down to clear out the little pebbles at the edge of the culvert. Shoveling the gravel out next to the culvert was to make the water deeper, creating an easier path for the fish. We also put a few staggered sandbags upstream of the culvert to slow water current and create small areas of rest.

Before we made these improvements, it was difficult for alewives to make their way upstream, whether it was because their path was blocked by big rocks, and piles of pebbles, or they simply couldn’t get over the dam. Doing this increases the chances of seeing fish in the future and may help to rebuild our precious run.

Henry Weinand, Jack Elwell, James Cody, Lute Campbell, Willow McConochie, Laney, Sophia

Part III – Research of Fishway Designs Quantabacook Lake Fish Ladder

(Quantabacook Lake) 

On May 18th, 2019 the public was invited to the Quantabacook Lake for an “Open House” held by Georges River Trout Unlimited and the landowner. The dam in Quantabacook was originally built in the 1790’s. Alewives can’t get over the dam because it’s at least a foot high. The public went there to see the returning of the alewives at the spawning grounds and to learn about their fish ladder which became the inspiration for the ladder we built and put into the Marsh.

The fish ladder in Quantabacook Lake dam is only needed when the water is low. The Quantabacook design is by Marty Bartlett. He has been designing fish ladders for low water situations there at the lake and finds this design to work well. The ladder he displayed that weekend has two metal straps that attach to the gravel upstream of the ladder to have a secure hold.

Since alewives have successfully used the fish ladder that Marty Bartlett had made, we think it will work in our Marsh just as well because the alewives can swim up the ladder and into the marsh.

Madison Barbour, Lilly Dyer, Breannah Morris

How does our site compare with Nature-like Fishway design guidelines?

This endeavor to help bring the alewives to our marsh required much thought, discussion, and research. We learned about existing research on fish ladder designs and how different designs might best suit the conditions of our alewife run. We had to examine our marsh environment closely and take measurements of our fish ladder area such as width, length, depth, and water velocity. These told us whether our water flow was suitable for alewives to swim up for the length of our ladder. (See next section.)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends minimum pool width, depth, and length conditions for a prime alewife habitat. They stated that the minimum pool/channel width is 5.0 feet, the minimum pool/channel depth is 2.25 feet, and the minimum pool/channel length is 10.0 feet. Ripley Creek pool’s width, depth and length are within these guidelines. The pool is ideal for alewives.

Grace Yanz

How does the water velocity this spring compare with research of alewife swimming speeds?

On Friday May 31st at 11:28 am our eighth grade class went down to the marsh to calculate the water velocity in our newly placed fish ladder. It was important for us to do this to determine whether or not our alewives could make it from the many pools up into the marsh through the strong current in the ladder.

The first thing we did as always, was sneak up onto the culvert to check for returning alewives. When it was determined that none were spotted, we continued on to the ladder to calculate the velocity.

The first thing we did was to take a yardstick and measure the depth of the ladder, then the width, and finally the length. The few that gathered the data then reported it to those that were recording. The final measurement needed was the speed of the flow, or how fast the water was travelling in the ladder. To gather this information we used a tennis ball and cut a small slit into it. We then filled the ball with water approximately halfway so that we would get an accurate measurement. Our next step was to send the ball down the ladder, starting farther into the marsh so that it was accurate, and time until it reached the end.

Using this data and a sheet provided to us we calculated that the water velocity of our fish ladder is 26.52 centimeters per second. Using a published study we discovered that greater than 92% of alewives can swim through this current we have created for the length we have assessed (five feet).

Lydia Myers, Gwen Miller, Mya Simmons

Part IV – Acknowledgements

Conservation Commission

We would like to thank the Conservation Commission for giving us a hands-on project to build a fish ladder and improve passage in the stream. With the help of the Conservation Commission, we have more hope for a successful run of alewives, which would help our fishing community and ecosystem greatly. Thank you so much for all your encouragement! We look forward to future improvements and an amazing alewife run.

Maggie Gill, Mya Simmons, Gwen Miller

I am indebted to our Commission for their inclusive and enthusiastic support of our students. This partnership engages our students with purpose and value, and connects them to our natural world in the context of community responsibility and stewardship.

I would also like to extend my appreciation to community members who have visited our classroom and shared their experience, knowledge and resources with us. In doing so, you’ve helped our students access unwritten cultural knowledge that “brings home” their community heritage and also fosters a desire to care for our natural resources.

Alison England, Middle Level Science Teacher

Randy Elwell

We all would like to thank Randy Elwell for all his funny, but educational stories and for taking the time out of his day to tell these stories. I thought it was interesting how they could skip shop class if they were fishermen and go catch fish. Also, I thought it was cool that back then that they could just go dip alewives out of the marsh or go get truckloads in Warren because there were so many and no one cared. Now if you did that today, you could get fined. No one even thought about it because they thought the fish would be there forever.

Tom Hughes

Jim Kalloch

Thank you Mr. Kalloch. Because of you, our class was able to fill up around 100 sandbags. We used these sandbags to create pools of water for the alewivies to rest in as they make their way up Ripley Creek. The sandbags raised the water level a little bit as well. We also used the sandbags to build a better dam so more water goes down our new fish ladder. This was a big help in the town’s restoration process to bring back our alewive run which we lost around 1985-86. We found alewives trying to swim back into the marsh several years ago, which is the incentive for us trying to help them swim back in. Once again, we are very thankful for your contribution.

Henry Weinand, Jack Elwell, James Cody

Ed Courtenay

The middle level students of Saint George want to thank you for taking your time and effort to teach us about valuable things, such as the spot that you mentioned has been a source of fishing for over nine thousand years, and the way the run works and how the cage traps the fish so they can collect them in the town of Warren.

We learned many things about the alewife run such as poachers, and a little about the history, and that alewives were a main source of food back in the day. Again, we thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to teach us, Mr.Courtenay.

Shaun Hopkins, Zeke Miller


“What I will value the most with this project is knowing that I took a part in helping alewives come back to our marsh. With the building of all the pools with the sandbags and building the fish ladder that will hopefully work for the alewives. We put so much work into this project to help the community make sure the alewives will be able to get back into our marsh.”

“I really value being given the privilege to go to the Marsh and being able to be part of building the fish ladder…because now that I am leaving St.George School I am being given the privilege to leave something behind.”

“Something that stands out to me (is) that I learned about this community is that it’s not just our class that wants the run back…It made me realize the importance of keeping a run or rebuilding a run is that some towns can really come to rely on the alewives.”

“The things I’ve learned include the history of alewives, alewife migration, what alewives are used for, and why we want a nice healthy run. Now, I have a better understanding that restoring our alewife run is important because they may not be able to be harvested, but they can also reproduce and are a huge help in our ocean ecosystem. I think that when I am older, and look back on this project, I will value all the team work the most. I feel like this project brought my class and my community closer together, and will forever be grateful for that.”

“When I look back on this project I want to remember making a change for the class and furthermore the town. So, I value making a change with my class that will hopefully help the community.”

“I am proud of building our fish ladder because when people come by to look at it we can say that we did that.”

“What I’ve found very interesting about our community and our alewife run is that one year we can have a great alewife run, and the next time the run is gone. I think this is important because it shows just how quickly things changed. Alewives keep the ocean healthy and are an important part of the food chain.”

“When I look back on this project I will value how we studied our community. It is important to value this because we can walk down to the marsh to do experiments and a lot of people can’t do that because they don’t live in a community like ours…the fish ladder shows how our class can work together and help the community.”

“I was surprised and amazed to learn about just how valuable alewives have been to the people in our community, and to the local ecosystem. It was amazing to learn about how long people have been fishing for alewives, about how long they have been serving our community. The First Nations people who lived here before us relied deeply on alewives as a source of food and, believe it or not, fertilizer, and when the Europeans came they were taught by the people of the First Nations about the uses and proper fishing methods of alewives. I found this fascinating. I was also fascinated by the essential role the alewives played in the interdependent web of the natural world. They provide literal shelter for spawning salmon, food for countless species of birds, including bald eagles, double-crested cormorants, and great black-backed gulls. These fish are of the utmost importance to the whole ecosystem, and it was fascinating to explore that. Overall, this unit has been fun, informative, and has further connected me to my community.”

“During this three year project, our class has been learning about the lost alewife run in our town’s marsh. In sixth grade we started with doing something called the “Watershed Project” which was when we learned about the ecosystem in and around the marsh. In seventh grade we worked on the salinity in the marsh, and this year we have been working on trying to bring the alewives back. We have studied when and why our community has lost our run, and how it has affected the ecosystem. When I look back on this project, the most thing that I will value is knowing that I was trying to help these fish get into their home. I am proudest of the work we have done to and around the marsh. I am happy with this because it makes me feel like I helped the earth, and what was gone I can help to come back.”

“The St. George community is very strong and is held together by caring people who are always ready to help others. They care a lot about the town’s children and what the future holds. Through this science restoration project, the community was ready to share what it was like when there was a large run of alewives. During our field trips and blog reading, I learned how much the town relied on those alewives. To them it seemed as though their return was a tradition, for no one thought that one day the community’s children would be trying to bring them back… If the alewives end up not returning though, it was a great effort that we made, and it can certainly bring communities together and make them stronger. As of course, the alewives may have been a huge part of the town’s history. When I graduate, I will certainly miss the school. But I really will miss the way I learned here, with

hands on projects, surrounded by nature and community around me. In sixth when we learned about the watershed of the marsh and we explored the old road, I had the best time. I loved writing all of the poems and making watercolor paintings. So something that I will value from every experience at this school, is the many ways I know I can learn. Whether it be hands on or in a book, I have learned, and certainly value, that when you make an effort to help your community, it really does make a difference. I have learned so many bits of history of the place that I live in that I had no idea about. And without knowing this history I doubt that I could appreciate the project that I was involved in. So thank you St. George School and community, I will always value the history I have learned, the encouragement and praise, and all the many ways I have found that I can learn.”

“This project opened my eyes to how tightly woven this community is. This means that what the members of it do have a great effect on everyone else, which is both good and bad. In some ways, it’s bad, such as when the alewife run in the marsh is lost, and it’s the only one in the community. And in other ways, it’s good, like in scenarios when something like trying to restore the run is done, and it brings everyone together. The many stories of people we read who had experiences in the creek and marsh reinforced this notion as well.

So many people make a living associated with alewives, and there are a lot of memories that people have involving them, that it’s hard to argue that they don’t have an important role in our lives. On the field trip, I was looking at the bountiful runs of alewives and thinking about how ours was so depleted. Also, with the amount of birds flying around, and consuming the alewives really made me realize how important they were to their ecosystem. Seeing these definitely made me realize how important the runs are to communities and their ecosystems.

Looking back at the project, I am proud to have contributed to making our marsh more friendly for the alewives. I am very interested in conservation and helping the environment, so I value that experience a lot. Tying onto this, I feel that my proudest work is my work on improving Ripley Creek, in which I placed sandbags and cleared the silt and rocks. This is because I think that my work really made a difference, and I hope it helps the alewife run return! “


Oral Histories

Randy Elwell Classroom visit transcript/notes, April 3, 2019, A. England
Jeff Falla and Robert Morris Classroom visit transcript/notes, March 2016, A. England Lyle Morris Classroom visit transcript/notes, February 2016, A. England
John Falla, Classroom visits/notes, 2016, 2018, A. England

Fish Ladder Design / Martin Bartlett, Searsmont Maine

Streamflow Method /

Nature-like Fishway Designs ines.pdf

Swimming Speeds t_appendix_7.pdf

Stream Restoration / Alewife Blog

Could alewives swim up the current in the ladder?

Gwen, Sophia and Willow are measuring dimensions of our ladder in order to calculate the volume of water flowing through its length

The rainy and cool spring has increased the water levels spilling over the dam and we wondered, could alewives swim up the current in the ladder? We found we make some measurements and calculations and compare the flow rate to that of published research about alewife swimming speeds.

Contributed by Lydia Myers, Gwen Miller, Mya Simmons

On Friday May 31st at 11:28 am our eighth grade class went down to the marsh to calculate the water velocity in our newly placed fish ladder. It was important for us to do this to determine whether or not our alewives could make it from the many pools up into the marsh through the strong current in the ladder.

The first thing we did as always, was sneak up onto the culvert to check for returning alewives. When it was determined that none were spotted, we continued on to the ladder to calculate the velocity.

The first thing we did was to take a yardstick and measure the depth of the ladder, then the width, and finally the length. The few that gathered the data then reported it to those that were recording. The final measurement needed was the speed of the flow, or how fast the water was traveling in the ladder. To gather this information we used a tennis ball and cut a small slit into it. We then filled the ball with water approximately halfway so that we would get an accurate measurement. Our next step was to send the ball down the ladder, starting farther into the marsh so that it was accurate, and time until it reached the end.

Using this data and a sheet provided to us we calculated that the water velocity of our fish ladder is 26.52 centimeters per second. Using a published study we discovered that greater than 92% of alewives can swim through this current we have created for the length we have assessed (five feet).

Our “calculators”, Lydia and Maggie

Visiting Damariscotta and Warren – The Run is ON!

The fish ladder in Damariscotta wasn’t how I remembered it looking, I had remembered a more mechanical look to the fish ladder, probably because I was like seven, the last time I saw it. As for the Warren fish ladder, I hadn’t been expecting it to look so flat. At both the Damariscotta and Warren fish ladders there were tons of fish in each area, even in the trap at Warren, where they would take scales for the researchers, even in that area there were tons of fish. I honestly wasn’t expecting to see so many fish there, it was mind boggling. Especially when we were at the part with the set stone, just seeing the fish swim up to the next pool. Although it was really cool to watch, during the whole thing I had wondered how exhausting it must have been to be a fish and swim up one of those fish ladders, because it’s such a long swim and all the water pressure must make it so hard! So near the duck boards, the thing I wondered about the most were the metal things that looked like a excavator’s bucket, but larger and meant for water. While we were at that part I had been wondering what the purpose of it was. I would say the thing I understand better is how badly a run can get affected by a dam or mill. An example of that would be Damariscotta. The natural fish run got blocked by a dam, and in 1741 legislature wanted a way for the fish to get through. However, this didn’t get done until 1807, when they built the fish ladder. I didn’t know that the fish ladder in Damariscotta went up about 40 feet. That height is massive in my opinion for a fish, especially with all the water pressure going against them. It makes me wonder if after long enough, when we get a good fish ladder built, if we can have at least a fraction of the amount of fish they have in Damariscotta.  Henry

I think the fish in Damariscotta and Warren were really cool. I have never seen so many fish in one spot, it looked like millions. It was also cool to see the fish in the different sections going up to the spot where they spawn and seeing the process. One thing I noticed is that they were all in the middle of the stream and there were none on the sides and that there were so many that you couldn’t see the water. Really, there were a lot more than expected. I wondered how many there actually were. I found it interesting how many there were and that there were not more birds, and that (biologists) can see how old the fish are by their scales. I understand now how many fish there are and how they catch them to sell. I learned that they see the age of the fish the same way they do with trees. That experience makes me wonder if our run was ever that plentiful or if it ever will be.  James

The run in Damariscotta was being aided a lot by the fish ladder, and you could really tell that it was very easy for them to climb to the lake. It seemed that at both (places), the seabirds were heavily crowding, which tells me that the alewives are a very important food source in those two locations. I’ve seen the Damariscotta run before, but not when it was at its peak like it was. The amount of fish really surprised me at both locations. Damariscotta definitely had more fish swimming upstream, which makes me curious about why that is. I also wonder how there are so many when Damariscotta lake is relatively small, and I am imagining that it would be extremely full of alewives at some points. In Warren, I didn’t quite understand the cage contraption because it seemed that all of the alewives were swimming into it. I also wasn’t sure about how the chute in Damariscotta was operated. It was very interesting to me how the fish ladder was working so well, and how they successfully got back their run. After it all, I understood more about how important alewives are to the ecosystem they are part of, and the communities they swim through. Something that helped me understand this more was seeing the smokehouse, which I didn’t know about before this. After the experience, I felt more inspired to do more at our run to help the alwives swim upstream to the marsh. Since we’ve begun to restore our run, I have felt more optimistic about our run returning to its original and healthy state. Lute

When we first walked along the road onto the bridge to overlook the river in Damariscotta I spotted a few fish close to the left side. I soon realized that the whole black mass in which I had just assumed was the shadow on the water, was all fish. In Warren, I was more interested in the cage in which they caught the fish than the fish themselves as I has expressed my amazement of the amount of fish in Damariscotta.  It was cool for me to see Warren specifically because that is where my dad goes to get his bait in the spring. When he does this he tells me about how most times he has to wait on a list but sometimes he can get them right when he arrives. That being said, I was wondering what the setup was there and now I understand and can picture what is he is talking about. There was an amazing amount of fish. I wonder if someday we will have an awesome amount of fish like that here in our Marsh. At first I wasn’t sure why it didn’t seem that the fish were going anywhere but after asking Mrs. England I found out that they were most likely waiting for the tide or amount sunlight to change. The thing I found the most interesting is the pools. Not necessarily the pools themselves but the way the alewives just launch themselves up into the next one. That day I learned that alewives like the tides and the sunlight to be right before they will enter their body of water to spawn. The experience that day made me hopeful that with all of our efforts that in day our run will be just half as good as that one. Lydia

I thought the fish were pretty cool…seeing them swim in these tight formations, a little hard to see but if you could see them, they were cool. I noticed the fish weren’t really moving. They seemed to look like they were but they weren’t. It was puzzling. Also, in Warren the fish couldn’t really move and in Damariscotta they could move but it seemed like they moved just about the same. There was a lot more fish than I expected; I expected a few here and a few there but there was a lot more…I found the look and the detail of these fish most interesting. I understand what these look like the fish, and the fish ladder more. I learned that there have been poachers in Warren that take as many fish as they can get without giving back. It makes me think of how it may have used to be, back then.  Shaun

I was really impressed that there were thousands upon millions of alewives there, and seeing all the scales in the water in Damariscotta, and at Warren the amount of fish flowing through was incredible. Yes, there were a lot of fish, more than I expected. I thought they would be like a small group, but there was a giant line of fish, like a traffic jam. I noticed that they travel in packs, and I saw a rim of a boat, or a buried boat on the top of the waterfall were the alewives are counted. I was most interested in the traffic jam of fish, there were so many fish.  I was astonished! Thomas

I think that the whole experience was really cool, and I enjoyed seeing all the alewives, as they tried to make their way upstream. It was amusing to see the alewives move as a whole…one alewife would move and the rest would follow.  It was also interesting to see different species of birds trying to get a decent meal.  I remember going on a hike a few years back and we walked along a little river, I think it was the Ducktrap (River), but I’m not sure; the alewives were all stacked up, I mean, you could walk across the river, because there were so many.  I was expecting a lot of alewives to be at the run in Damariscotta, but I wasn’t expecting so many to be in Warren. I found the big fish (were they brown trout?) the most interesting, because I wasn’t expecting that big a fish to be so high in the fish ladder.  Willow

I noticed and learned about the the smoke room and how that system kind of functions and works and how they had the fish hanging and the smoke was cold. There were more fish than I thought there would be; I was expecting a lot, but not that many. I thought it was really cool to be surrounded by that many fish at once. I would stick my hand in the water and I’d feel all their slimy, scaly structures and it was so cool. What was most interesting were all the machines and ways they could travel through, was pretty interesting. I would say I understand more about how they are sold and eaten after this experience. This experience and thinking about our restoration efforts in T. Harbor makes me jealous. I have hope and believe that our community’s run can possibly jump start again, but it’s going to take work, time, and dedication. Hopefully, the fish ladder and the sandbags really make a difference.  Zeke

On Wednesday May 22nd we took a trip to the Damariscotta Fish Ladder and to Warren. Some of the things I noticed were that there were a lot of fish and they always stayed in a group. Every three or four minutes they would swim under the bridge to the other side. Personally, there were a lot more fish than I expected to see. We also saw many dead ones along the side and we got the experience of going in the smoke shack and see all the fish getting cooked which I thought was pretty cool. I wondered how many fish they had in the shack cooking but they didn’t know. The thing I found most interesting was how we were told that someone stands over the open space on the ramp and counts how many fish go through in ten minutes at the top of each hour. Now I understand more about the fish ladder in general because I got to see it for myself in person. I had already known all about the fish in Warren because I go there with my grandfather and my dad to get bait. I learned how the fish go down through. I thought their system for it was cool because it was obviously working, telling by the amount of fish we saw. I think we won’t have as much as Warren and Damariscotta, but it is possible to get some because we have been working on putting sandbags down and building our own fish ladder.  Breanna

I thought it was very cool how many fish there were and their process of getting them around. It was impressive how there were thousands of fish just in that size area. I noticed that the depth of the of the water looked similar to the depth of Ripley Creek which made me imagine what it would be like for even 100 fish to be in there. There were way more fish than I expected. I didn’t imagine that I wouldn’t even be able to see the bottom of the water. I wondered what they might have been like being as crowded as they were in the water. The ones that I saw it looked like they never even moved. Now I understand how healthy the run of alewives is there and how important losing our run in Saint George was to the town. Obviously, our run wouldn’t be like that, but our efforts to make a good way into the marsh have been good.  Jack

I noticed how many fish there were. They were moving kind of slow, but there were tons of them. The fish ladder was really cool to look at seeing how it works. There were a lot more fish than I expected. I knew there was a going to be a lot but I didn’t realize there was going as many as there were. I wonder how hard it would be to get up the fish ladder or if it was hard at all. The most interesting thing in my opinion was the fish ladder itself. Like I said, it was really cool to see how a working fish ladder works. I understand how a fully working fish run works now because I never knew what one looked like until then. I learned about Mulligan’s Smokehouse I didn’t know about that before we went. This experience makes me think about what our run would have looked like back then. It’s so empty now and it feels like they aren’t coming back anytime soon because if the Damariscotta run looks like that and that’s what we used to have I don’t think we can restore it like that again but we can always keep trying.  Taylor

On Wednesday May 22, 2019 the 7th and 8th grade classes took a trip to Damariscotta Fish Ladder and the fish ladder in Warren. I was so amazed by how many alewives that I had seen, especially because in the Marsh there is practically none. When I had seen just one side of underneath the bridge where the fish were coming in on the Damariscotta bridge and went to the other side and looked up the stream there were so many more fish than I had expected I would see. I am curious to know how long it takes for the man at Mulligan’s to smoke the alewives. Also, I am curious to know the average amount of alewives sold on a daily basis. I was very interested in knowing how many alewives I had seen that day, because that was the largest amount of alewives I have been able to see. It was very interesting seeing the system that they had set up there and how large it was. I now understand how many alewives there once were, just based on how many that I have seen.  I really hope that somehow we can get the alewives back soon because they aren’t only important to me, they are a big and important part of this community. Madison

I thought that it was really cool to look at them from over the bridge. It amazed me when I realized just how many there actually were. It was like there was just a long, winding path of black in the water. It did not really seem like they were going anywhere, but it was fascinating to witness them all coming back to their birthplace. This experience reminded me of how we used to have alewife runs in Tenants Harbor. Of course, I did not see the runs but I wonder if we had runs like the ones in Damariscotta. Where they just as large? Did they come in huge schools? I thought it was an interesting set-up in Damariscotta, with all of the pools that went up like stairs. The part before you ascended the wooden stairs, the process seemed quite busy and complicated. I also noticed a sort of mini waterfall. This left me wondering about how the fish got to the stone stair pools. Was there a place to swim under the ramp? Or did some of the fish have to attempt to jump up the small waterfall? On this field trip, I learned about how to smoke the alewives and the process behind it. When we visited Mulligan’s Smoke House, I learned that the fish were salted and later smoked for a few days in the smoke house. Something that I also learned from the man at Mulligan’s, was that you don’t smoke the alewives in hot smoke like a fire. Instead they use cold smoke, which gives it more flavor. Seeing the fish in the smoke house has also really cool, considering I had never actually looked inside a smoke house, I was fascinated. Overall I thought that it was a really fun trip. I remember back in sixth grade when we learned about the watershed of the marsh and the history. As a sixth grader back then, and even now, I had an amazing time going outside and observing all of the nature around us. When I realized we were learning about the marsh again, I was quite excited. I love going outside for class and am excited for what is to come.  Addie

When we first got to Damariscotta we all noticed that when you looked over the bridge you could see a crowd of fish that went under the bridge and up. Then when we got to Warren I couldn’t really tell how the trap worked until I got up close. There were definitely more fish then I ever expected, especially in Damariscotta. I wonder how long it takes for the fish to make it to the lake. What I found most interesting was that it takes three days to smoke the fish and that there were over 2000+ fish in Mulligan’s smokehouse. Now I understand how the fish ladders work. This experience makes our restoration efforts worth it because now that we have seen how many other fish ladders have had an alewife run, it makes us want to have that many alewives in our marsh again.   Mya

I noticed that there were huge clumps of alewives all packed together trying to swim and they never separated when something happened. When we were in Warren I noticed that the alewives were trying to swim up the fish ladder but the force was too strong and they would get pushed back into where they started. From both Damariscotta and Warren there were tons more fish than I expected and it shocked me how plentiful they were. Seeing the huge clumps at Damariscotta when we first got there amazed me that there were that many fish because I thought there were going to be so much less than there actually were. I wonder if the fish from Damariscotta ever leave that huge clump they were in and just separate to go other places in that river. When we were at the river in Warren and we were talked to about the history of alewives, I found that very interesting because during class we’ve been focusing more on what’s happening with alewives today and restoring things and I found it interesting to get that piece of background information to learn why we are doing what we’ve been doing in class. Like I said in my previous statement about how it was nice to know history and background information about alewives I understand better why we are helping our community by putting sandbags in our marsh or building a new fish ladder. I understand why we have been doing what we’re doing in class thanks to the Warren warden who told us the history of alewives. Throughout the day I was learning a whole bunch of new information I had no idea about and one of those being that I learned how fish ladders work to help the rivers and fish and that they weren’t just there. I also learned about how what we are doing in class relates a lot more to the history of not just alewives in our town but other towns as well. This experience has made me think of why we are helping with stream restoration and that we are headed in the right direction with it. Overall I think our efforts for helping the stream restoration.  Laney

I thought that the experience was very cool and I liked learning new things about our run. I noticed that there weren’t any birds (other than sea gulls) trying to pick at the fish. I expected to see as many fish as I did. What was interesting was that so many people gathered together to make these fish ladders to provide for the fish. I understand better how the fish ladders work. I learned that it took 60 years for the run to come back. Thinking about our run, and our restoration efforts in Tenants Harbor, (I can see) their system is much different in Damariscotta and much more complicated than the one between our culvert and marsh. Lilly

I didn’t think there were going to be that many fish trying to get up into the lake. I thought there was going to be one small school of alewives. I noticed in Damariscotta, all the alewives were in one path following each other, they weren’t swimming all around the whole area, it was a really cool dark path made of fish. There were definitely more fish than I expected. I thought there was going to be just one small school of fish trying to get up into the lake but instead there was a massive amount of fish trying to get into the same lake they were born in, which is really cool. I wondered how they swim against the pressure of the water coming down at them. I also am curious about how long it takes all those fish to get all the way up into the lake in Damariscotta. What I found most interesting was how many fish there were and how the fish made a line (pathway) to get into the lake by themselves. Also, in the smokehouse, it took three days to do the process of smoking them. I would be interested to try a smoked alewife. What I learned that I didn’t know before was that they were cold smoked, and that our run is really small. I think it would have been really cool if we did have a big place like Warren or some place else where alewives would come, and make a cool path in the water and have lots of fish, but I also think it is really cool that we do have a cool small little spot where alewives come and try to get into our marsh in Tenants Harbor. Gwen

At the Damariscotta alewife run, there was a very successful fish ladder helping thousands of fish climb into the pond. When people said that it looked like you could walk on the fish as if it was a bridge, I thought that they were exaggerating. So as soon as I saw the massive amount of alewives under the bridge and all along the river leading to the fish ladder, I was amazed about how many fish there were. It was definitely more than I expected. I wonder why alewives need to go to the ocean every year if it’s such a struggle to come back to where they were born. I also wonder how so many fish could completely evacuate the river over the course of around two hours. Where did they all go? I think the most interesting thing about the alewives is how strong they are. The water running through the fish ladder seemed very fast and strong, but the alewives could swim through it easily. I understand more about how fish ladders work and how alewives travel after that experience. I learned how many alewives migrated to one spot and I also learned how they were caught. I don’t think our alewife run will be the same as it was before, if it’s even existent, because we have tried many times unsuccessfully and our creek doesn’t have the potential that their river had.  Maggie



A Floating Fish Ladder and the Quantabacook Lake Alewives

Timing is everything, especially for alewives! A visit to Quantabacook Lake and the “Quantabacook Dam Open House” on Saturday, May 18th was good timing to learn about an interesting fish ladder design, applicable to our marsh.

George River Trout Unlimited (GRTU) and the landowner of the Quantabacook Dam invited the public to celebrate the return of the alewives to their historic spawning grounds in Quantabacook Lake on Saturday, May 18, 2019.  The dam is also the site of Searsmont’s local conservation project between the land owner, GRTU, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  Presently, when water levels drop, particularly in the late summer or fall, alewives in the lake cannot migrate back downstream.  Working together, they hope to collect data to help direct future efforts.

Quantabacook Dam, Searsmont

For now, helping the fish get in to the lake in the spring is aided with this fishway technique. It works well on this site when the water is high.  Although the run has been very slow this year with all the cool weather and rain, the landowner showed photos from last year with the 30-40′ section of river downstream from the dam teeming with the fins of alewives, pooling and waiting to negotiate their passage over the dam and into the lake. This day, which was not quite warm but not cold either, a few alewives scooted through the “gullies” at either end of the lake.  (Click on the link in the caption to see several alewives navigate the gully.)

A determined alewife (movie)

During the open house, Marty Bartlett who has been designing the gullies and the fish ladders for low water conditions at Quantabacook Lake explained his floating fish ladder.  It’s a narrow trough that channels several inches of water, which will be enough to allow the fish to swim their flow.  The front edge attaches to the dam and a metal strap from each front, bottom edge will be pinned into the gravel on the other side of the dam. To get even more water flowing through the channel, a rubber strip extends the height on the edges of the front half. They self-adjust their angle as the water level in the stream fluctuates.  Locals also manage the water level in the lake as it exits during the alewife, by putting in “restraining” boards, and put those in place leaving only a 20″ gap in the middle of the dam where the fish ladder attaches.  The two “sluices” in the picture below actually are bolted together to handle the numbers of fish that are returning into the lake.


Marty Bartlett, May 18, 2019

This dam at Quantabacook has a long history as do many of our dams.  It was originally built in the late 1790’s so the river between the dam and the village of Searsmont would flood and create a bog that could be used to grow cranberries.  In the late 1960’s the dam at the outlet was replaced.

The story of why alewives are even arriving at Quantabacook a tale of another dam: Sennebec Lake dam.  While the Sennebec Dam was being built on the St. George River in Union in 1916, observers noted large schools of salmon milling about at the base of the dam.  These salmon as well as the shad, alewives and eels were blocked from migrating to their spawning habitats; the ponds and lakes upstream. The dam was originally constructed to produce electricity and was later sold to the Sennebec Pond Association in the 1960’s, who used it only to maintain lake levels.

In 2002, The 12 foot high, 200 foot wide dam and replaced with a rock ramp fishway at the pond’s natural outlet.   This opened up another 17 upstream miles of the St. George River as well as 1100 acres of lake habitat in the Sennebec Pond and Quantabacook Lake for migrating fish.  It was far too late for the salmon to make a comeback, the alewives are back in Quantabacook, and the Searsmont community is celebrating!












Measurement and Moving Boulders

Our first “sneak” to the culvert’s edge to check for fish…Then on to measurements and moving boulders!

We are making small scale models of fish ladders after reading text and evaluating the pros and cons of four basic fishway designs.  We want to know the dimensions of the stream and the channel where a fish ladder would be positioned to help work out potential lengths and slopes, given the present water conditions when there is not flooding tide. We got the measurements we were looking for and then some big boulders were cleared from the channel creating fewer obstacles for fish (in potential low water conditions) and also created a more level area for our fish ladder to come.

Thank you Zeke, Jack, James, Henry, Adrien, Lilly and Shaun!

Improving Fish Passage!

We are grateful for this year’s opportunity of being able to improve the resting pool, thanks to another donation of material from Jim Kalloch. Students “dug in” enthusiastically and with a little help from Superintendent Mike Felton for transport, the goal of our first day of field work was met!

Why did we lose our alewife run?

The “metal culvert”

The cement culvert with weirs that was set during August, 2015.

There are several reasons why we lost our run. When people netted the alewives during the 1980’s, they were harvesting adult fish that were trying to reach the marsh in order to spawn.  Not really knowing that fish couldn’t reach the marsh to spawn, fish were being taken from the population, while the population wasn’t able to reproduce itself.

The cement culvert, newly installed

This was because fish couldn’t get through a culvert put there during the 1970’s.  A metal culvert under Rt 131 was put in during the 1970’s and was put in too high. From this time on, the fish had a hard time to pass through the culvert under the road, and continue into the marsh. However, In August of 2015, that metal culvert was replaced with the cement culvert with weir sections.  It was placed lower in elevation, and the weirs create little pools of water inside the culvert to help the fish (and also elvers and any smelt) swim up through the culvert.  This allowed fish to pass under Rt. 131 like they used to.

Stocking the marsh in 2014

Another positive community action was that each spring, from 2009-2014, the state stocked the marsh with adult alewives harvested from a healthy run elsewhere in the state.  These adults spawned in the marsh, and then went back out to sea.  The eggs that hatched in the marsh spent the summer there and then went offshore for their first winter, then out to the Gulf of Maine to grow to adulthood.  When they became a three or four-year old fish, those surviving fish made their way back to Ripley Creek because they imprinted on our marsh waters where they had hatched!

We should have more returning fish.  We should have hundreds returning to the marsh. This will be the fourth spring since the new culvert was put in and fish could reach the marsh, so perhaps this is a year we might see more returning fish.  However, we can also wonder if the salt coming into the marsh on spring tides is decreasing the numbers of alewives that hatch from eggs, or survive as fry. We know that these spring tides didn’t happen regularly back in the 1980’s, as they do today.