Vision: China Lake and the China Lake Outlet Stream reconnected to the Sebasticook River and the ocean, providing free passage for 950,000 returning adult alewives.
Goal: To remove obsolete dams and establish free fish passage at the six dams that historically blocked access to China Lake from the Sebasticook River.
Success in 2022!
May 19, 2022 Alewife Restoration celebration
About the project:
With removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999 and the removal of the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow in 2008, sea-run fish passage has been restored from the ocean directly to the Sebasticook River. In 2021 for the first time since 1789, native alewives were able to freely make their way to spawn in China Lake, then safety out migrate back to the ocean.
For generations, dams in seven miles of the China Lake Outlet Stream blocked river herring and other migratory fish species. Completion of the China Lake Outlet Stream Project allowed free passage for an estimated 800,000-950,000 alewives (river herring), significant numbers of American eel, as well as sea lamprey, white sucker and brook trout. Outlet Stream and China Lake are within the historical range of American shad and alewife, and China Lake is identified by the Maine Department of Marine Resources as a priority for alewife restoration. China Lake offer 3,850 acres of spawning habitat; in this tremendously productive watershed, it’s second only to Sebasticook Lake.
The Box Mill Dam was dilapidated and partially breached. A technical fishway was installed to let alewives swim past it. It’s a great place to see fish move upstream in the spring!
The Ladd Dam and the community swimming area will remain. Fish passage was established by constructing a Denil fish ladder to fish to safely make their way around the dam in the spring. Income from harvesting alewives will benefit the Town of Vassalboro, as it has at nearby Webber Pond.
Lombard Dam was removed to allow fish to move freely upstream and downstream.
This old dam deteriorated and its remnants were removed.
The deteriorating Masse Dam and the collapsing sawmill were removed to allow alewives to move freely past this site. The historic gristmill that houses critical infrastructure for a small private water company has been preserved.
Owned by the Town of Vassalboro, this dam controls the water level of China Lake. A Denil fishway was put in place to allow for fish passage while maintaining the water level of the lake.
The project is supported by the local community that sees alewife restoration as a valuable way to restore ecological balance and to resolve water quality problems in China Lake. Young alewives ingest phosphorus that has come into the lake as runoff and take it with them when they migrate out to the ocean in late summer. Restoration will also bring in revenue for local communities when alewives are harvested and sold as lobster bait. In addition to Maine Rivers, project partners include Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, China Region Lakes Alliance, China Lake Association, Maine Department of Marine Resources, The Nature Conservancy in Maine, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the news:
Numbers speak for themselves as alewives regain foothold in Central Maine (Portland Press Herald, May 5, 2022)
Alewifes return to China Lake for the first time since 1783 (Maine Public)
Native Maine fish return to China Lake (WMTW)
Governor Mills attends alewife restoration ribbon cutting (Town Line, May 2022)
Benton’s Alewife Festival canceled again, but great fish migration swims on (Morning Sentinel, May 21, 2021)
Alewife restoration project nears two-thirds completion with Vassalboro fishway (Morning Sentinel, September 30, 2020)
Historic alewife restoration initiative hits another milestone (Town Line, October 7, 2020)
After 200 years, alewives set to return to China Lake (Town Line, August 2019)
Alewife fishway work in Vassalboro signals halfway mark of massive stream project (Town Line, August 14, 2019)
Construction begins for alewives restoration at Ladd Dam in North Vassalboro (Morning Sentinel, August 29, 2019)
Maine’s native wildflowers come to Vassalboro School
Vassalboro residents hear ARI update (Town Line)
Maine native wildflowers come to Vassalboro (Town Line)
Historic presence of alewives in Outlet Stream reconfirmed (Town Line, August 9, 2017)
Alewife project moves ahead in Vassalboro, but controversy remains (Morning Sentinel, August 2, 2017)
Alewife restoration group inches forward on dam plans (Morning Sentinel, May 29, 2017)
Vassalboro: Dam groups hold public hearing on project (Town Line Newspaper, November 17, 2016)
Project to revive China Lake lowers to boom on old sawmill (Morning Sentinel, September 4, 2016)
China Lake Association focuses on alewives, LakeSmart progress (Town Line, August 4, 2016)
Conservationists push to bypass or remove dams, restore alewife run in Maine (Portland Press Herald, March 29, 2015).
Reports and maps:
Link to historic maps of Vassalboro and Winslow
The original colonial era maps can be found in the Maine State Archives in Augusta.
The Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin 55(2):1-15 (2015)
“New Investigation of the Cates Farm Site, Vassalboro, Maine”
By Gary D. Shaffer, Arthur E. Spiess, and Nancy Asch Sidell Natural Resources Conservation Service; Maine Historic Preservation Commission; Archeobotanical Consulting
“…(T)he information reported herein is confirmation of the antiquity of the alewife run into China Lake. Documentation of alewife harvesting for at least 5000 years at the outlet of China Lake provides support for NRCS’s planning to restore alewife runs in the Outlet Stream by creating fish passage through several dams.”
Kleinschmidt: Potential Impact of Alewife Restoration in China Lake (draft report produced for the Kennebec Water District) August 2015
“Restoring anadromous alewife to its historical habitat is important for numerous reasons, including providing a source of prey for higher trophic levels and influencing zooplankton dynamics in freshwater ecosystems. In addition, restoring access to historical spawning habitat will benefit the ground fishery stocks in the Gulf of Maine (Ames and Lichter 2013) and other endangered diadromous species (Saunders et al. 2006). Finally, harvesting migrating adult alewives provides an economic benefit to communities. For many years, anadromous alewives have been associated with landlocked alewives and the potential negative effects of non-native stocking or invasiveness. There are distinct differences, both behaviorally and phenotypically, between these members of the same species. In conclusion, the KWD should not consider the restoration of anadromous alewife to be a threat to its mission to provide clean, safe water to its customers.”
Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station Miscellaneous Report 398 (1996)
Water quality affects property prices: A case study of selected Maine lakes.
By Holly J. Michael, Kevin J. Boyle and Roy Bouchard
“The results of this study show that water clarity significantly affects property prices around Maine lakes. “
A Watershed Analysis of China Lake: Implications for Land Use and Water Quality Management, Colby College Assessment Team, 2005