GARDINER — To celebrate the spring fish migration season, the big-screen premiere of “Keystone: Voices for the Little Fish” is set for Thursday evening at the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center in downtown Gardiner.

“It’s meant to really celebrate spring migration and welcoming the alewife back,” said Tina Wood, the founder and board president of Upstream, a Gardiner-based nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring fish passage to Cobbosseecontee Stream.

While Upstream has put on other events focusing on restoring fish passage, this event is new for the organization. The documentary runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Johnson Hall, 280 Water St.

“Because of COVID, I think people’s spirits have really been challenged,” Wood said. “We’ve really wanted to have a fun evening where people could laugh and come together.”

Alewives swim upstream in May 2021 in the Sebasticook River, just below the Benton Falls Dam in Benton. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Along with the premiere of the documentary showing Upstream’s ongoing efforts, the evening is to feature a question-and-answer session following the video, music, art and games. The event is to be hosted by Dennis Price, with music provided by Alfred Lund.

Alewives are considered a keystone species, meaning the fish, part of the herring family, have critical impact on the ecosystem.


“We have the brightest minds around alewives to help showcase them and tell why it’s important,” Wood said.

Progress to raise awareness has been steady for the group, which organizes an annual spring cleanup of the stream banks in downtown Gardiner.

It has also advocated for opening up the stream at every opportunity for fish passage.

Cobbosseeontee Stream, which flows into the Kennebec River in Gardiner, provided power for a series of mills in Gardiner’s early history, and dams have been installed to harness the power of the stream. Three dams remain.

Most recently, when the American Tissue dam’s license was up for renewal, passage for eels — upstream and downstream — was required, as was downstream passage for alewives.

“It’s working fishway and the eel passage is quite innovative,” Wood said. “We want to take a look and see how successful it is.”


Upstream passage for alewives will be required once the fish reach the base of that dam, Wood said, but they are not able to reach it now because they cannot get past the former Gardiner Paperboard Dam. The dam is not operational and prevents migrating fish from traveling farther upstream.

Wood said she hopes people in the 12 communities of the Cobbossee watershed will take from the event the message that fish restoration is a positive for all of them.

“There’s a lot of benefits, more than just restoring the habitat and connectivity of the river,” Wood said. “It brings people to our area. It brings economic revival.”

The event is free and open to the public. Johnson Hall requires those attending to wear masks.

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