PENOBSCOT — Snow and ice may choke the streams flowing from Wight’s Pond and Pierce’s Pond at the start of the new year, but the coming of spring will return flowage from the ponds and, thanks to a pair of projects this past fall, both ponds will be available as spawning grounds for alewives.
Thanks to a collaboration between the citizens of Penobscot, federal and state agencies and several local and national conservation organizations, crews from R.F. Jordan & Sons Construction Inc. of Ellsworth began working late last summer to remove a decades-old dam and install a “nature-like fishway” at the outlet of each of the two ponds. The goal was to reopen both streams for fish passage.
The in-water construction on the projects was finished Sept. 30. The work at Wight’s Pond wrapped up in August, but additional work on a limited access road and small parking area continued at Pierce’s Pond until just a few weeks ago. As at the Patten Stream fishway project in Surry, educational signage will be installed at the site in the spring.
Like much of Maine, Penobscot once relied on its natural resources for much of its economy. Harvesting fish and shellfish were significant industries, as were brickyards and milling logs.
Both Pierce’s and Wight’s ponds had sawmills along their outlet streams, powered by the flow of water from the ponds downstream to the Bagaduce River and Penobscot Bay. Millwheels and dams on those streams blocked them to alewives and other fish that migrated between the ponds and the sea
Alewives are one of several fish species called “anadromous” or “diadromous” — that travel between fresh and saltwater at key points in their lifecycle.
Alewives ready to spawn run upstream into ponds, and some return to the ocean. Baby alewives hatch in the ponds, and, if water conditions are right, juveniles head downstream to saltwater.
Blocked streams prevented many alewives from reproducing, reducing the population. The result was fewer fish low on the food chain and, some scientists say, less for cod and other groundfish to eat.
In Penobscot, a “nature-like fishway” was built at both ponds. These look like a section of terracing in the stream bed, a series of pools that create a sort of ramp up the streambed into the pond.
The fishways are designed with specific depths, grade differences and materials maintaining appropriate water levels in the ponds while allowing enough water to flow through at the right speed so that fish can travel up and down stream. The fishways are also designed to need minimal maintenance over time.
The two projects were the culmination of months of effort by a large group of partners and community members. Vital funding for the project came from, among others, the residents of the town of Penobscot and the town Alewife Committee, The Nature Conservancy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Habitat Blueprint Program, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Blue Hill Heritage Trust, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and several other state and private organizations and individual donors.
The town will host a celebration of completion of the two projects June 2, 2018, at the town boat ramp at Pierce’s Pond.