F R O M   T H E   C R O W E ’ S   N E S T


Before It Was Forgotten

The abundance of lobster in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) appears to be holding up. Settlement data indicating a near-future decline is now posited as a situation in which higher inshore temperatures might be driving lobster into deeper colder water. The suggestion being that lobster larvae numbers are stable, but they are inhabiting a larger area of the Gulf of Maine.

More uncertain are Atlantic herring stocks and the rising price of lobster bait. The demand for bait looks like it will continue to increase. It isn’t known if the Gulf of Maine is up to delivering more Atlantic herring.

The restoration of river herring, alewives and blueback herring, and access to spawning areas in Maine rivers, streams and lakes, has been successful in the few places where the effort has been made. Rivers such as the Damariscotta River and Union River in Ellsworth have seen dramatic increases in the number of fish returning over the last five years. There are hundreds of other rivers, streams and lakes where access can be improved for these anadromous fish, which live most of their lives at sea, but swim to fresh water to spawn before going back to sea.

The trillions that once swam back into the GOM have for millennia been the prey fish that supported the renowned groundfish stocks in the GOM. Adult alewives were also a staple food for Native Americans, European immigrants and New Englanders for generations into the 20th century.

Restoring access for these fish to historic spawning areas is proving to be the most reliable, rapid, practical and likely only way to bring groundfish stocks back to the GOM. It is also the only known solution to the lobster bait supply and cost problems. Grants from NOAA and other agencies are helping to fund the projects planned to date.

NOAA didn’t decide overnight to back restoring Penobscot Bay. The decision was the result of decades of input from fishermen, scientists, and the Maine DMR doing river herring restoration under the radar. Individual volunteer citizens caught alewives at the mouths of streams, hauled them in pickup trucks, then poured them over dams a bucket or hand net at a time. Ultimately it was the effort of interested citizens who saw the need to get the funding for the engineering and construction projects that could fix the access problem before it was forever forgotten.