Before we moved to this neck of the woods, my kids and I lived a few hours up the coast in the town of Surry. It is where my kids were born, where they grew up, where their deepest friendships were forged. Mine, too. We love living down here, but in many ways, when we say “home” that’s where we mean.

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There was a lot we loved about Surry, but one of our favorite things was the annual “fish pass.”

I know that sounds kind of strange, but I’m not sure it had a more official name. The event was … well, exactly what it sounds like. I don’t know when it started, and I’m certain I missed a few, but generally speaking, every year when the alewives were attempting to spawn, Surry residents (alongside friends we could rope in) would gather where Patten Stream met the bay and start passing nets full of fish, upstream, person to person like a bucket brigade. We did this to get the alewives pushed over the human-made blockage that prevented them from doing it on their own.

It was kind of an amazing ritual. Little kids, senior citizens, young adults; the fish passers came in all shapes and sizes. The one common element was a desire, or at least a willingness, to spend a day laughing with neighbors while you helped out a species.

That particular ritual stopped when, back in 2016, a more efficient – and frankly, aesthetically lovely – natural-style fish ladder was constructed instead. It’s better for the fish, better for the ecosystem. Sad to lose the ritual, but, really, neighbors can always gather for trail clearings instead.

The fish pass gave me a lasting, fond association with the alewives, and so I was delighted to read that thanks to dam removal and ladders, these special little fish that are native to Maine are once again able to reach China Lake for the first time since 1783. That’s amazing.


My brain honestly can’t quite wrap around some of the finer points of that. I mean, as an article by Susan Sharon of Maine Public notes, the last time alewives were able to reach the lake, the American Revolutionary War had just ended. How do the fish even still retain the instinct to go back after all that time? I don’t understand it.

I don’t understand it, but I think it is wonderful.

The efforts that resulted in alewives returning to China Lake are far from an isolated occurrence. For decades, Passamaquoddy leaders and activists have been working on dam removal to bring about unobstructed fish passage along rivers, most notably the St. Croix.

Brains Altvater, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, has been a forerunner in restoring river health. He and several others formed the Schoodic Riverkeepers and have been remarkably successful in changing laws, removing dams and creating clear passage for the fish to return to their natural habitat. Recent agreements between the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the state will mean even more fish will have access to their territory.

Increased fish access is good for the health of the rivers, good for the health of the fish, good for tourism and good for international relations also, as we see Canada joining in.

My thanks to everyone who has helped remove the dams and restore the natural balance. What a wonderful spark of hope for us all to see a historical wrong righted with such promise.

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