Thank you to everyone who rallied to “Check in” support for YMCA Camp Huckins!  With your help we raised $500 in funds which will go towards camp scholarships.

For May, our nonprofit in the spotlight is the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restorationproject. As of this moment, the folks in Damariscotta Mills are waiting eagerly for the annual running of the alewives.

Damariscotta Mills is home to the state’s oldest, most productive, and most publicly accessible alewife run. Built by the towns of Nobleboro and Newcastle in 1807, the fish ladder was originally built of local stone packed with clay in an overflow outlet of Damariscotta Lake. The fish ladder may never have been a particularly efficient passageway as it followed the natural lay of the land, which is often steep and narrow. The fish ladder has undergone many repairs and renovations in its long history but none of them has been comprehensive or specifically designed for efficient fish passage until the current effort.

Why Enhance Fish Passage for Alewives?

Annual run of the alewives. Photo courtesy of Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration

Alewives are an important part of the food chain and they contribute to the health of the marine environment and to the lakes and streams where the fish spawn. In the spring, alewives are a critical source of food for wildlife and their young as well as a source of fresh bait for local lobstermen who are setting out gear after a winter ashore. The Towns of Newcastle and Nobleboro have harvested alewives at Damariscotta Mills since the 1700s and, by balancing conservation and economic goals, they have carefully tended the Damariscotta River alewife stocks. However, pressure from offshore fishing and environmental degradation have taken a toll on fish stocks. Today, harvesting is only carried out when a sufficient number of alewives are reaching Damariscotta Lake to spawn. All funds received for harvested alewives are spent to maintain and restore the fish ladder and harvesting area.

Noting the historical, environmental, and economic value of the alewives, the Towns of Nobleboro and Newcastle and the Nobleboro Historical Society, backed by a solid community-based initiative, embarked on an ambitious project to rebuild the fish ladder in 2007. In the ensuing five years, two-thirds of the historic stone structure has been re-built to specifications provided by US Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Ladder Engineer Curtis Orvis and Maine Department of Marine Resources fisheries biologist Gail Whipplehauser. Work to date has been funded by community fundraising events, donations, and grants, including a $92,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

At present, the most deteriorated and least accessible third of the fish ladder has still to be addressed. Creative and innovative methods must be devised to remove the current crumbling pools and rebuild them to the new design specifications. Work to date has cost nearly $600,000 and it is projected that another $350,000 – $400,000 will be needed to complete the restoration.

Even partially complete, the results of the restoration have been impressive. The number of alewives reaching Damariscotta Lake to spawn has nearly doubled and even greater numbers are expected once the restoration is complete.

Time to Check In!

You can help support Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration in restoring this vital fish passage by participating in our Check in for Charity campaign. Fill in your name in the form below to earn $1 towards our $500 fundraising goal for Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration this month.