BENTON — As the alewife has seen a resurgence in central Maine in recent years, so too will a festival named for the fish that’s native to Maine rivers.

The Benton Alewife Festival is set to make its return Saturday after the coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation for a few years. It is planned to be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. along Clinton Avenue near the Benton Town Office in Riverside Park, which looks down on the Sebasticook River where millions of alewives will travel this spring.

It’s the first time the festival will be held since 2019, according to Amy Gagnon, one of the festival organizers.

The festival celebrates the annual alewife migration up the river, when the fish travel upstream for about a month in the spring to reach lakes and ponds to spawn.

Some new features this year include a walking path from the park to the Benton Falls Dam, where there will be tours of the fish lift at the dam, and live music by bluegrass band The Oystermen, Gagnon said. Other offerings at the festival will include a fire truck, wood carving demonstration, a beekeeper, Smokey Bear and forest rangers from the Maine Forest Service.

It was a bit of a challenge to bring the festival back this year, because many volunteers who were involved in past years were not available, Gagnon said. But the alewives and the festival are an important part of the town, and organizers were determined to resurrect the event, she said.


“We’re hoping to continue bringing a greater awareness to the importance of the alewives and the Sebasticook River, and also to come together as a community,” Gagnon said.

The festival began in 2012 when the Edwards Dam in Augusta and the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow, both on the Kennebec River, were removed, allowing the alewives to travel up the Sebasticook River.

Since then the alewives have flourished, with the migration peaking in 2018 when the fishway at Benton Falls Dam counted a record-breaking 5.7 million alewives passing through. Although that number hasn’t been surpassed since, the dam still saw several million alewives in the following years, marking the river as one of the biggest alewife runs on the East Coast.

Alewives, also known as river herring, are an important food source for other fish, animals and people, including lobstermen who increasingly rely on alewives as bait.

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