River herring (Alosa pseudoharengus) are a keystone species that connect our communities on land with the ecosystems that we depend on in the sea. The Passamaquoddy name for river herring translates to “the fish that feeds all”. This appropriate name rightly describes their role in the food chain from juvenile to adult forms that travel back and forth from our communities to the open ocean up and down the coast.
River herring are managed at the federal and state level, but in Maine there is opportunity for towns and municipalities to form alewife committees as part of their town government and to manage recreational and commercial fisheries on the local community scale.
The fact that alewives return (or run) to their natal streams and ponds to spawn each year, provides the opportunity to monitor each run’s health over time and manage them sustainably and effectively. Unfortunately, state and Federal governments do not have the capacity to work at this community level. Fortunately towns do and they have cultural and economic connections to these ponds and fish runs, and local knowledge that is invaluable to collaborative management.
MCCF has embedded itself in the trenches of co-management with several of its neighboring towns along the Bagaduce River where we helped create the three-town Alewife Committee of Brooksville, Sedgwick and Penobscot. MCCF work with these communities has informed state and federal policy to empower and incentivize this type of local management.
Alewives show us our connection to the sea and they show us that in order to sustain our fisheries and fish forever, that we need to play the most important role.