This could be a banner year for the return of alewives to the North Shore. Although we are still early in the run, all indications are that the work being done by a host of different governmental agencies and volunteer organizations and the restrictions being put in place on the commercial take is really starting to pay off.
To put this into perspective it is important to understand the history. Using the Merrimack River watershed as an example, a cursory examination of the passage records tells the story. In 1983 and 1984 there were 4,794 and 1,176 herring and alewives counted at the dam in Lawrence. In the years 1987-1992 the numbers ballooned to 77,209; 361,012; 378,973; 254,242; 379,588; and 102,166.
Then the bottom dropped out. In 1993 the count went down to 14,027 with a low of only 51 in 1996. Since that time the counts have varied, ending with 740 in 2011 and 1,809 last year. However, this year the number has already risen to 16,799 with the migration far from being over.
Similar numbers are being reported on the Parker River at the Woolen Dam on Central Street in Newbury. Runs used to be as high as 20,00 a year there, but the counts have fallen to lower than 500 over the past few years. There have been at least 7,000 up the fishway this year with more coming every day.
Folks viewing the run from the Apple Street Bridge looking over Alewife Brook in Essex that runs out of Chebacco Lake report in that the fish are returning there in numbers as well. And, the tiny fish are coming into Annisquam River to the Little River trying to make their way up to the Lilly Pond.
“We are very happy with the results this year,” said Joe Mckeon, Supervisory Fishery Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ‘We are setting records in the Lamprey River and the rest of the rivers along the whole New England Coast seem to be experiencing a nice recovery.”.