The number of alewives that made the journey over the Nequasset fish ladder to spawning grounds in Nequasset Lake nearly quadrupled this year over the previous year, according to a local conservation nonprofit.

Numbers released by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust subsequent to their annual fish count in Woolwich indicate an increase in the number of fish in 2014 that were harvested and that successfully used the aging fish ladder in its last season of operation.

Since midsummer, the ladder has been under construction in a joint effort between the Bath Water District,

KELT, the Woolwich Fish Commission, and state and federal fisheries agencies.

KELT began counting the alewife run up the Nequasset fish ladder in 2012 to assess the area impact of dwindling numbers of the anadromous fish that is popularly used as lobster bait.

Fish were counted between May 5 and June 9, 2014, by 95 volunteers. During that time, 19,061 fish were visually observed crossing over the dam and 978 bushels, approximately 117,360 fish, were harvested.

From this number, KELT extrapolates that 150,950 fish in total made it up the fish ladder for a total run of 268,310 — almost double last year’s estimated total run.

The escapement percentage — the estimated ratio of fish passed to fish harvested — was 56 percent, well above the Department of Marine Resources target ratio of 17.5 percent for a sustainable harvest.

In 2012, fish were counted between April 13 and June 3, by 73 volunteers. That year 2,766 alewives were visually counted swimming over the Nequasset dam. Additionally, 1,111 bushels, approximately 133,320 fish, were harvested. KELT estimated that a total of 29,916 fish made it up the fish ladder, for a total run of 164,000.

This represents the lowest number of fish that successfully made it over the dam, and the highest number of fish harvested during the three years the count was completed. The escapement was estimated at 18.3 percent.

In 2013, between April 29 and June 9, 67 volunteers visually counted 5,572 fish over the dam and 717 bushels — approximately 86,100 fish — were harvested with a 32 percent rate of escapement. It was estimated that 40,841 fish made it up the fish ladder, but the total run represented a decrease from the previous year, at 137,000.

Next year during the run, the fish should have an easier passage as work on the fishway is nearly complete.

Atlantic Mechanical Inc., of Woolwich, was contracted to rebuild the 57-year-old, deteriorating fishway. Construction is estimated to cost approximately $132,000, said Trevor Hunt, superintendent of the Bath Water District, in a July interview with The Times Record.

The design of the fish ladder had been modified based on recommendations from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and engineers, and will be part Denil-style ladder and part pool and weir system.

The ladder is also being extended by one pool, slightly reducing the incline, and the passageway from the top of the ladder over the dam is being broadened.

Nequasset is one of fewer than 20 municipally managed harvest sites in Maine, according to a news release from KELT, and is considered one of the top alewife runs in the state.

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— ATLANTIC MECHANICAL INC., of Woolwich, was contracted to rebuild the 57- year-old, deteriorating fishway. Construction is estimated to cost approximately $132,000, said Trevor Hunt, superintendent of the Bath Water District.

— THE DESIGN OF THE fish ladder had been modified based on recommendations from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and engineers, and will be part Denil-style ladder and part pool and weir system.

— THE LADDER IS ALSO being extended by one pool, reducing the incline, and the passageway from the top of the ladder over the dam is being broadened.


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