November 19, 2019

China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative

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.

SRLT MR at Vassalboro days

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 and to the outlet of the China Lake Outlet Stream in Kennebec County. The successes that have followed the removal of the Edwards and Fort Halifax Dams are astounding—millions of alewives now move into these rivers. However, the work is not done.

The dams in seven miles of the China Lake Outlet Stream block river herring and other migratory fish species. Completion of the China Lake Outlet Stream Project will allow 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.

P1020208The 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:

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