The view of Center Pond from Route 209 in Phippsburg. The Center Pond River Herring Committee is applying for a grant from NOAA to improve the pond’s fishway for alewife migration. Luna Soley / The Times Record

The Phippsburg Select Board signed a letter of support Wednesday night for a federal grant that would go toward the construction of a fishway leading from the lower Kennebec River into Center Pond.

The current fishway — which allows alewives, a species of herring, to pass through a shallow tidal stream into the pond to spawn in freshwater — is only effective for about 47% of the tidal cycle. The other 53% of the time, fish are either unable to enter the pond to spawn or are stranded on shallow rocks to die.

With the extension of the tidal stream, proposed by the Center Pond River Herring Committee, alewives will be able to pass through during 85% of the tidal cycle.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources said this project would spark a population increase of 53,000 alewives as well as a 240% increase to the average annual run count of 22,100 fish.

Phippsburg residents have raised $100,000 over the past seven years through municipal tax revenue approved at annual town meetings. They also have contributed over 2,000 volunteer hours monitoring the fishway, clearing debris, counting river herring returns, collecting data, and monitoring adults and juveniles migrating out of Center Pond.

A portion of Center Pond is preserved by a local land trust, which owns property along the eastern shore, including a trail system intended for shoreline fishing. The dam at Center Pond, which was built in the mid-1800s for ice harvesting, serves no purpose aside from maintaining current water elevations for shoreline residential areas and containing the water body for what is a popular local swimming area.

Troy Wallace, a Phippsburg resident and volunteer who has spearheaded the CPRHC’s efforts to make a viable fishway into Center Pond, said that residents want alewives to be able to spawn there. This would not only maintain population numbers but also stock the pond for fishing. In addition, alewives help improve the health of the pond and decrease nitrates, according to Wallace. They are also a valuable source of food for eagles, osprey, cormorants, seals and Atlantic cod.

“The more (alewives) we have, the better off we are,” Wallace said.

If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant is approved, the CPRHC will move forward with a project that has been quoted for $200,000 to upgrade the current fishway, built in 1981, to one that better supports a sustainable alewife run.

Morning light on Center Pond in Phippsburg. Thirty thousand alewives have been counted migrating through the fishway to spawn in the pond so far this year. Luna Soley / The Times Record

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