CHELSEA — Lake association volunteers and a habitat restoration coordinator for the state worked in a knee-deep stream Friday afternoon to corral adult alewives in nets and carry them over the dam into Lower Togus Pond.
There were significantly fewer fish trying to get through the dam at the end of Togus Stream than earlier in the week, but it was still an important event for the watershed.
This year was the first time in 200 years adult alewives have swum upstream to the dam, said Slade Moore, habitat restoration coordinator for the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources began stocking the pond four years ago with the hope the juvenile fish born in the pond, after swimming to the ocean to spend much of their adult life, would return to spawn in the pond.
Members of the Worromontogus Lake Association, made up of property owners around Togus Pond, voted in 2009 to ask the state to reintroduce alewives to the pond because the fish can reduce the level of phosphorus-creating plankton, improving the water quality.
Now that fish have finally returned, association volunteers and marine habitat restoration workers are manually transporting the fish over the more-than-200-year-old dam. The ultimate goal is to build a passage over the dam, and the plan is currently the design phase, Moore said.
He anticipates the design will be completed by February of next year. After that, it could be another two years or so before the funding to build the fishway is secured, Moore said.
Alewives, reaching lengths up to 15 inches, are native to Maine rivers and are a food source of many other animals, including striped bass, halibut, brook trout, osprey, whales and seals.
The Lower Togus Dam is the only remaining barrier blocking alewives from returning to their historic spawning areas in the Togus lakes.
The restoration project is a collaboration among several partners, including the lake association; the city of Augusta; the Maine Coast Program, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment, Maine DMR, federal agencies; Verrill Dana LLP; Wright-Pierce, which is doing the engineering work; and local landowners.