Alewives return to Pushaw Lake by the thousands

OLD TOWN, Maine (WABI) - Thousands of small fish are making their way to Maine this spring.

River herring, or alewives, spend a majority of their life at sea, but return to freshwater to spawn.

As Alyssa Thurlow reports, Pushaw Lake will see hundreds of thousands passing through before summer's end.

"To me it's just so amazing how they keep coming persistently back," said Gudrun Keszoecze of the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge.

The alewives are back.

"They will pull up right there by that gate and wait for the current to push them through," said Kescoecze.

Every May and June, guided by their sense of smell, thousands of alewives will make the trip from the ocean to this dam to spawn.

Alewives have co-existed and co-evolved with other native Maine fish for years.

With the addition of a dam on Pushaw Lake, these River Herring have been returning to Old Town since 2016.

"We had about a million fish return that year," explained Richard Dressler of the Kukunsook Camp Association. "Then last year there was a little less, like 700,000. and this year we will probably be in that range."

"Look at Pushaw Lake as the mother of the fish, right? So, they come back to see the mother and lay their eggs here," said Kescoecze.

Alewives serve many purposes in our ecosystem, but they mostly serve as food on the food chain.

"Everything eats them. In the lake you have the fish eating them, the eagles, the ospreys, everything," explained Dressler.

Following the adventures of alewives each year are the folks from the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge, who count as many as they possibly can fighting through the current.

"The alewives are restricted to come through the fish ladder and as they pass through, there are 14 counters in there and that will count the number of fish passing through," explained Kescoecze.

The eggs hatch quickly and those that survive will make their way back to salt water, only to go through the whole process again next spring.

You can follow the fish with folks from the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge this weekend by canoe.

Tours begin Sunday at ten.

Canoes, paddles, and life jackets will be provided.

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