AUGUSTA — A group working to return alewives to Togus Pond now has a professional design of a passage for the small fish, which serve as food for many other species of animals in and out of the lake.

What’s still missing is the roughly half-million dollars it is expected to cost to build it.

Without the proposed fishway, the native fish, which are born in fresh water but spend most of their lives at sea before returning inland to spawn, are prevented from getting into Togus Pond by Togus Dam, built there in 1804.

Advocates for the return of alewives say restoring the run of fish won’t benefit just the fish that can then return to spawn, but also a whole range of other species that feed on them and the larger ecosystem they live in.

“This is an ecosystem restoration. Alewives play a role in the ecology of the lake, the Kennebec River and Togus Stream, and they’re beneficial for the Atlantic Ocean,” said Paul Christman, a marine scientist with the state Department of Marine Resources. “Alewives are food for other fish and food for birds. They are an important species to bring back if you’re looking at restoring an ecosystem. They’re connected to everything.”

In 2013 the Worromontogus Lake Association, made up primarily of landowners around the Augusta lake, in cooperation with the state and the city of Augusta, received state grant funding of $24,000 to plan and engineer a fishway to allow fish to get behind the Togus Dam.

On Thursday, association members told Augusta city councilors they had finally completed that design project, following delays that included time spent sorting out the title to the dam property, which the association now holds. The association also now has a design for a concrete pool-and-weir-style fishway, with a steplike series of pools separated by notched gates, or weirs, which allow fish to jump from Togus Stream into the lowest one, then progressively jump up into higher and higher pools, 17 in total, until reaching Togus Pond.

Gary Schaumburg, treasurer of the Worromontogus Lake Association, said association members were visited some six years ago by state Department of Marine Resources officials working to restore indigenous fish, especially alewives, back to their native inland waters.

“The dams prevented them from doing that, and the amount of impact on the environment has been enormous,” Schaumburg said. “When the dam was built, it did some good things. It brought mills. If you were a farmer, it provided irrigation water, and it made a beautiful lake. But it also did some bad things. Almost 1,200 acres was lost to spawning fish. It probably didn’t seem like a big deal in 1804. It seems like a big deal now. It’s created all sorts of difficulties. It has stressed the populations of predators that are part of the environment here. If we can get them back in to the lake, the benefits are myriad.”

He said marine scientists differ in their opinions, but many believe, he said, reintroducing alewives could make the lake healthier, by reducing phosphorous.

The Department of Marine Resources stocked Togus Pond with 10,000 fingerling alewives each year from 2010 to 2013.

In 2014, workers and volunteers below the dam netted almost 33,000 alewives, carrying them up and over the dam and releasing them in the lake. This year, Schaumburg said, they netted about 66,000 fish and put them in the lake.

“You have to see it to believe it,” he said of the effort and the sight of so many small fish they covered the stream bottom. “They come in droves. They’re gnashing their teeth to get over this dam.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said there are about 400 tax-paying property owners on Togus Pond, who typically don’t make many demands for city services. He noted no city funds have been spent on the project, though city staff members have helped the group.

However, one of those taxpayers on Togus Pond, 59-year-old William Rocque, who said he’s lived on and fished Togus Pond since he was a young boy, is not at all happy that alewives are being brought back there.

The frequent fisherman said since alewives were reintroduced into Togus Pond, fishing for brown trout, his favorite pastime, has been entirely unproductive.

“I fished hard and, the last four years, I can’t even catch one — zero,” Rocque said. “Before, I could catch two nice browns any day of the year. I’m an individual who has lived here longer than any of those flatlanders, and they’ve ruined the thing that made me happy. I pay $100 a week in real estate taxes and the only thing I’ve enjoyed out here is trolling for browns, and now it’s zero.”

He acknowledged bass in the lake seem to be thriving since the arrival of the alewives, but he doesn’t like to fish for or eat bass. He said they don’t give the great fight that brown trout and other game fish give that he’s after.

Rocque also said he worries that a fishway will allow other, undesirable species into the lake, such as lamprey eels, which he said can decimate game fish populations and have done so at other lakes.

He is also concerned that alewives have parasites which could be passed on to predators that eat them, including osprey and eagles. And he doubts the fish will affect the amount of phosphorous in the lake.

Alewife restoration efforts, Christman and Schaumburg noted, have involved numerous groups, including officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state agencies, and engineers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All involved, they said, support it in hopes it will bring additional ecosystem improvements.

Christman said alewives also might help bring back endangered Atlantic salmon, because predators such as cormorants and striped bass, which might otherwise eat salmon smolt, instead might target alewives, also known as river herring.

Neither the lake association nor the city nor the state has the money now to build a fishway at Togus Pond.

Christman said sources of funding are out there, such as grants, but the cost of such projects is so high it probably will take multiple sources to fund the project fully.

“It is a lot of money. That’s not unusual for a fishway,” he said. “We’ve put them in enough to know they’re expensive. But there are pots of money that can be used for fishways like this. This is always the challenge, putting together a patchwork of funding.”

Getting permits for such projects also can be tricky, as they often are proposed in Atlantic salmon watersheds, bringing additional requirements.

The work generally must be done between mid-June and mid-September, when the water is low, to minimize the effect on the stream.

Schaumburg said the association plans to reach out to philanthropic organizations and businesses and seek out grant opportunities.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.