The vast numbers of Atlantic salmon that ascended the Kennebec River before the valley was settled by Europeans was an important resource for the native Indians. The salmon runs concurred with those of the shad and alewife. Determining the relative importance of the various species would be difficult and not relevant to this discussion. Indian camps were moved to various locations along the river corridor to coincide with the movement of the runs. It is reasonable to assume that the quality of the habitat was excellent, being substantially altered only by natural forces. Generally speaking, the fishery was operated at a subsistence level, with some additional indication that fish may have been traded as a valued commodity. The fishing methods employed were primitive, consisting of spears and traps.
At first, the white settlers made little change in the environmental quality of the river valley or the size of its salmon runs. Reports of limitless quantities of fish and game in the "New World" are numerous and consistent in their awe for the natural resources of this region. As the Kennebec Valley became more thickly settled, the river's fish stocks were much more seriously exploited for their commercial value. Thousands of boatloads of salmon (dories or bateaux were most often used) were floated down the river on their way to markets in Portland, Boston, or New York. Kennebec salmon was widely known in restaurants both in this country and in Europe and the British Isles. Salmon were so plentiful and easy to obtain that laws were enacted to prevent people cleaning them on public wharves along the river or to serve them to hired help in logging camps around the state more than three times each week. They were also often used as fertilizer by agricultural interests along the river and its tributaries.
With the continuing growth of industries in the Kennebec Valley in the 18th and 19th centuries, the river was increasingly viewed as a potential source of power for those industries. The dam at Augusta, which was first built in 1837, blocked the upstream movement of all anadromous fish species, making it impossible for them to reach the spawning gravel which is crucial to their reproductive cycle. For several years immediately following the completion of the Augusta dam, salmon remained relatively abundant, after which their numbers declined rapidly. In the decade following 1850 salmon were so scarce in the Kennebec that the once very productive drift net fishery at Augusta was completely abandoned. With the exception of a few years of unusual abundance, the Atlantic salmon fishery in the Kennebec River has been on a steady decline since the mid-1800's. During the 1950's and 1960's industrial, municipal, and agricultural pollutants, combined with a lack of fish passage facilities on the river's dams had reduced the annual salmon run in the Kennebec River to a maximum of several hundred fish. Recent runs have contained from less than a hundred to several hundred fish. Nearly all the fish in the present runs are strays from the partially restored Penobscot River salmon fishery. A very few of the Kennebec River salmon are fish that were born in the main stem of the river or in its tributaries which enter below the dam in Augusta.
Each year a small number of Atlantic salmon are taken by anglers on the river below the Augusta dam; most of these are caught by the use of illegal fishing methods, such as jigging. Most salmon killed on the Kennebec each year are not reported to the proper authorities; consequently, data on the fishery is scarce and incomplete.
The problems involved in the management of the present and future Atlantic salmon resource are not limited to one river system or even to the rivers of one nation. Because it is a migratory animal, wandering great distances from its parent streams, the salmon presents an international management problem which involves consideration of biological, sociological, economic and political issues. The combined effects of the over-harvesting of Atlantic salmon in the waters off western Greenland and Canada's Maritime Provinces by commercial interests, the increasingly negative effects of acid precipitation, and the great expense involved in the restoration of Atlantic salmon habitats and the raising of the fish stocks themselves all add up to a less than optimistic outlook for the future of the Atlantic salmon. Recent developments at the international political level suggest that concerned governments around the North Atlantic may be willing to take the actions necessary to restoring this great fishery resource to at least a semblance of its original proportions. However, it is premature to assume that this restoration effort will soon bear fruit in the Kennebec River.
Even today with pathetically reduced salmon runs (worldwide), the Atlantic salmon sport fishery still generates large sums of money which accrue to local and regional economies of areas where salmon are still relatively plentiful. The greatest hope for the restoration of any fishery lies in its ability to generate dollars for the economy. In terms of dollar value, the Atlantic salmon ranks very high, if not at the top of the list, as one of the world's most sought after sport fishes.
The American shad is the largest member of the true herring family. It is a sea-run (anadromous) species which makes its growth in the sea but returns to fresh water to spawn. American shad spawn in Maine streams from mid May through June in flowing water. The majority of adults are four to six years old and average three to four pounds when they return to spawn. Older fish (repeat spawners) may exceed 9 lbs. in weight and 30 inches in length.
Shad historically ascended the Kennebec River as far as Norridgewock Falls (89 miles from the sea), the Sandy River as far as Farmington, and the Sebasticook River to Newport (Atkins, 1887).
Prior to the construction of the Augusta Dam, fisheries for shad took place at Ticonic Falls (Waterville), at the falls at Skowhegan on the main stream and in the lower Sandy River, in addition to the tidal fisheries. It was documented in the historical records that the shad fisheries declined by approximately fifty percent after the construction of the Augusta dam which had less impact on shad than it did on the alewife and the Atlantic salmon because the majority of spawning and nursery habitat for the latter two species was above Augusta. The twenty miles of tidal fresh water below Augusta provided fifty percent of the spawning and nursery habitat for shad. From the time the Augusta dam was constructed up until the mid 1930's, the shad and smelt fisheries were the dominant fisheries on the tidal portion of the Kennebec River. Over fifty years after access to upriver spawning areas was blocked, the shad resource continued to support a commercial fishery of over 800,000 lbs. in the tidal waters of the Kennebec River. By the mid 1930's though, the shad resource was decimated by increased pollution from the Androscoggin and the Kennebec Rivers.
The water quality in the Kennebec River has improved dramatically since the era of gross pollution (the 1930's through the early 1970's). Since 1976, the Kennebec River has had adequate dissolved oxygen levels to support shad and other anadromous fish species in the lower river. The Department of Marine Resources has been monitoring the shad resource in the Kennebec River. Experimental drift gill nets are used to obtain an index of abundance for spawning adult shad and experimental seines to obtain an index of abundance for juvenile shad. The present surveys indicate there is limited reproduction below the Augusta dam and major areas of shad reproduction in the tributaries of Merrymeeting Bay; the Eastern, Cathance, and Abagassett Rivers.Thus the shad resource at the present time below Augusta is in a state of dynamic change. Because shad have a 5 year life cycle and the stocks are reduced to extremely low levels it is difficult to predict the rate of expansion. Based on experiences in other rivers, it is likely that significant recovery will occur within 2 to 4 life cycles.
Currently shad are under consideration for restoration to their historical habitat in the Kennebec River. A "Strategic Plan and Operational Plan for the Restoration of Shad and Alewives to the Kennebec River Above Augusta" has been prepared by the Department of Marine Resources. This document outlines the amount and location of spawning and nursery areas and the means for achieving the restoration goals. Achievement of the shad restoration goal would result in a run of over 700,000 adult shad annually above Augusta. The shad is both an important recreational and commercial fish species. Based on fishing success rates in other large river systems, it is predicted a fully restored run would provide for a catch of 72,500 adult shad and would generate 72,500 to 145,000 angler days of fishing effort. An economic assessment prepared for the Susquehanna River estimated an angler day has a value of $70 for shore fishermen and $139 for boat fishermen.
A fully restored run would be capable of supporting a commercial fishery of 500,000 to 725,000 lbs. annually with a landed value of $250,000 to $362,500.
An "Interstate Fisheries Management Plan for American Shad and Alewives" is being prepared under the auspices of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission of which the state of Maine is a member. The major emphasis of the plan for the New England area is the restoration of shad to their historical habitat.
There are two species of river herring found in the Kennebec River, the alewife (Aloha pseudoharengus) and the blueback herring (Aloha aestivalis). Alewives and blueback herring are usually referred to collectively as river herring because no distinction is made between the two species in the commercial catch. The alewife is the predominant species found in the state of Maine and the Kennebec River. Recent Department of Marine Resources surveys in the Kennebec River system have shown that blueback herring have only been found in small numbers in Merrymeeting Bay.
The alewife can be distinguished from the blueback herring by the following features: (1) The alewife has a larger eye in relation to head size than the blueback herring. (2) The alewife has a pink body cavity lining as opposed to blackish in the blueback herring. The alewife spawns in lakes, ponds, and deadwater areas whereas the blueback herring usually spawns in the moving currents of rivers and streams. Alewives usually enter Maine rivers from early May to early June and run upstream into lakes and ponds to spawn. Blueback herring usually spawn later than alewives with the runs extending from mid May to late June. Each female alewife produces 100,000 to 300,000 eggs depending on the size of the individual fish. The majority of the surviving adults then migrate back downstream shortly after spawning although sometimes the adults become trapped in the lake until fall rains provide sufficient outflow. The juvenile fish migrate downstream from the lakes to the ocean from mid July through early December with the majority leaving the lakes by October. Seaward migrating juvenile alewives range in length from 1.25 to 6 inches long. After spending 4 to 5 years at sea and reaching 12 inches in length, they return to their natal lakes to spawn and complete the life cycle. The blueback herring's life cycle is similar with the exception that it spawns in rivers and is slightly smaller when it returns to spawn.
Historically alewives ascended in immense numbers as far as Norridgewock Falls, 89 miles from the sea, on the main stream of the Kennebec River. They ascended the Sandy River as far as Farmington and on the Sebasticook River they had access to nearly every square mile of lake surface area. The Sebasticook River was the principal spawning and nursery area for alewives above Augusta. The ponds draining into Sevenmile Stream also supported a significant alewife run. Alewives were prevented from ascending the Sandy River as early as 1804 when a dam was built at New Sharon. The Sandy River was never a major alewife producer because of the limited lake surface area available. Although many dams were built on the Sebasticook River prior to 1800, passage was provided at these dams so that a major run continued to exist until the dam built at Augusta completely cut them off. Both the towns of Newport and Clinton had exclusive fishing rights to the taking of alewives within their town boundaries. The annual catch in the town of Clinton alone is estimated to have been 3000 bushels which is equivalent to approximately 1.2 million alewives. The town of Clinton auctioned the run off to the highest bidder and received $500 to $1200 yearly, quite a sum of money in the early 1800's. The town of Vassalboro had the fishing rights to the run of alewives on Sevenmile Stream and there is mention in the town reports of the fishery existing as early as 1777. The alewife fishery was an important asset to the community up until 1837 when the Augustadam prevented them from reaching Sevenmile Stream.
The Cobbosseeconte Stream drainage was also a major spawning and nursery area for alewives but this run was extinguished even before the alewife runs above the Augusta dam. The town of Wales (then including Monmouth) had a fish committee appointed in 1787 (whose duty it was to see that the fishways were kept open according to law but the dams built in Gardiner in the late 1700's were impassable and the alewife run was destroyed. The town of Winthrop also had a fish committee which unsuccessfully tried to obtain fish passage at Gardiner.
Togus Stream and Nehumkeag Stream which enter the Kennebec River below Augusta in Pittston had significant alewife runs which were also blocked by dams at an early date.
A population of alewives continued to sustain itself below Augusta from 1837 to the 1930's. This population was only a fraction of its previous size. In the mid to late 1800's landings of alewives in the tidal waters of the Kennebec River exceeded 600,000 pounds. The severe water pollution from the 1930's to the early 1970's reduced the alewife population to remnant levels.
Since the early 1970's, water quality has improved dramatically and the tidal waters of the Kennebec River should support an alewife population similar to that found in the system after 1837. The tidal section of the Kennebec River is freshwater from the outlet of Merrymeeting Bay to Augusta, a distance of twenty miles, making it the only Maine river which will support significant shad and river herring runs below head-of-tide. This section of the river is excellent shad spawning and nursery habitat. It is marginal alewife habitat but because of the large amount of accessible riverine area the total production of alewives would easily exceed one million pounds making it one of the largest runs in the state. While it is difficult to estimate the current population size, recent juvenile seine surveys show that the alewife is currently the most abundant of the three alosids (shad, alewife and blueback herring).
Current management efforts are directed at restoration of alewives to their historical habitat. A plan entitled "Strategic Plan and Operational Plan for the Restoration of Shad and Alewives to the Kennebec River Above Augusta" has recently been prepared by the Department of Marine Resources. This plan outlines the restoration goals and the time schedule and means for achieving those goals. The long range goal is to restore a run of six million alewives to the Kennebec River above Augusta.
The interim goal for the first ten years is to initiate restoration to eleven of the twenty-one lakes which historically produced anadromous alewives. This is to be accomplished by trapping ripe adult alewives at the proposed fish passage, trapping, and sorting facility at the Augusta dam. A fish passage facility was requested at the Augusta dam by a petition sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the Commissioners of Marine Resources, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Atlantic Salmon Commission through the Attorney General's Office. This action was the result of a Legislative Resolve (H.P. 1267-L.D. 1494) passed in 1977 and amended in 1979 (H.P. 559-L.D. 706). Once the alewives are trapped at Augusta they will be transported by tank trucks and released into the lakes.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has expressed several concerns regarding the alewife restoration program on the Kennebec River. One concern is the spread of species such as carp and lamprey eels which might have adverse impacts on the current management programs in inland waters. The Department of Marine Resources plans to trap and sort fish at fish passage facilities at those dams which have been identified by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as being strategic barriers. The fish passage, trapping, and sorting facility at Augusta will be manned by state fishery personnel and only selected species such as alewives, shad and Atlantic salmon will be stocked or allowed to pass upriver. During the last three years a fish passage, trapping and sorting facility has been operated successfully at the head-of-tide dam on the Androscoggin River at Brunswick. An additional safeguard is that alewives will be transported to the lake systems by tank trucks and fish will not be allowed free passage into the lakes by means of fishways on the lake outlet dams during the interim period.
Another concern of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is the possibility that alewives might compete with landlocked smelt. While there is some data to suggest that landlocked alewives which are not native to the state of Maine might compete with landlocked smelt the data is lacking to make the same inference about anadromous alewives. The major difference between landlocked alewives and anadromous alewives is that only the juvenile stage (age 0+) of the anadromous alewife and occasionally post spawner adults are found in the lakes and then only from June through October. At this time of year in most lake systems the landlocked smelt is usually found in the colder waters in or below the thermocline whereas the juvenile alewives are usually found in the warmer surface waters. The study by Gately (1978) done on the interactions of landlocked alewives and landlocked smelt in Echo Lake, Mt. Dessert Island, Maine, is the study most referenced as showing that "alewives" compete with smelt. This study found that there was overlap in the diets of landlocked smelt and landlocked alewives and that the growth rate of the older age classes of landlocked smelt was less than found in other lakes not containing landlocked alewives. Because there was no data to show that the food source was a limiting factor or that there had been a change in the population size of landlocked smelt, it was improper for this study to conclude that there was competition. Gately did find that the growth of juvenile smelt in Echo Lake was equal to or greater than that found in other Maine lakes. Thus because only the juvenile stage of the anadromous alewife is found in the freshwater lakes, it is much less likely to compete with landlocked smelt that landlocked alewives. It should be noted that the fishery manager has more control over managing anadromous alewives because the number of spawning adults gaining access to the lake can be controlled in a fish passage facility or by truck stocking.
The Department of Marine Resources is not planning to stock anadromous alewives for a ten-year period in any lake in the Kennebec drainage that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has listed as having landlocked smelt and significant coldwater fisheries. The interaction of anadromous alewives with salmonids, smelts, and other inland fish will be assessed through a cooperative research project sponsored by the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department. Based on the results of these studies, a cooperative decision will be made regarding future alewife introductions into the listed waters. A fully restored alewife run to the Kennebec River above Augusta would be capable of supporting a commercial fishery of 1.2 to 1.8 million pounds which at current landed value would be worth $100,000 to $144,000 annually. The major demand for alewives is for lobster bait. The alewife is very valuable as a bait source as it is available at a time of year when other bait sources are scarce.
The indirect benefits provided by alewife restoration may be the most valuable. Alewives are a valuable forage fish for important inland, riverine, estuarine, and marine fin fish. Presently the alewife is the dominant forage species for the spectacular salmonid fisheries in the Great Lakes. Adult alewives are important in attracting valuable game fish to our estuaries such as the striped bass. In addition, alewives may be an important buffer against the predation of salmon smolts by avian predators when they migrate downstream to the ocean in the spring. The alewife should also provide for an increased food base for the loon, osprey, American eagle, and other avian piscivores. Hydroelectric dams, if not provided with effective downstream passage facilities, may become the new focal point for our large gull population which has been displaced due to the phase-out of open dumps. Although it is very difficult to assign a value to the indirect benefits of alewife restoration, it is hoped that they are not overlooked by the regulatory bodies responsible for managing the divergent and often conflicting uses of our rivers.
The sea-run rainbow smelt, the smallest of Maine's anadromous species has played an important role in the river fisheries of the Kennebec River. It has provided seasonal employment in the winter when jobs were scarce and today is the basis for a large recreational fishery.
The smelt fishery has been utilized on a small scale since 1814 on the Kennebec River by hook and line and small gill nets. Before 1850, smelts were mostly consumed locally and sold through local markets. Bag nets were introduced in 1852 and allowed for greater efficiency in harvesting which encouraged expanded markets. After 1850 a great quantity of smelt was marketed in Boston and New York City. Bag nets were fished mainly between Bath and Richmond with 114 bag nets employed in the winter of 1879-80. These nets accounted for approximately 1/3 of the catch. Below Bath half-tide weirs were utilized. There was also a large hook and line fishery which developed in the Sasanoa River in 1878. Hook and line fisheries also flourished in the tributaries of Merrymeeting Bay, especially in the Eastern River. Two of the earliest hook and line fisheries were at Hallowell and Gardiner which were reputed to be productive around 1850. The hook and line fisheries in Hallowell and Gardiner declined severely by 1880 which some attributed to the introduction of bag nets.
Smelt assumed a dominant role in Kennebec River fisheries in the late 1880's. The landed value of smelt at that time was two to three times the landed value of salmon, shad, or alewives. Smelt and shad were the two dominant sea-run fish species in the Kennebec River from the late 1800's through the early 1900's.
Smelt were less effected by dam construction or pollution than the other sea-run fish species with the possible exception of the shortnose sturgeon. Before the Augusta dam smelt probably ascended the Kennebec River only as far as Waterville to Ticonic Falls. While a significant but unknown amount of habitat was eliminated by the construction of the Augusta dam, a large amount of habitat remained below the dam. This was also true for shad, but increasing pollution in the 1900's had a greater impact on shad than on smelt since shad spawn later and are more dependent on the river for juvenile nursery habitat.
Smelt generally spawn during the spring high water run-off and the young quickly leave the upper tidal section shortly after hatching. Thus, they are not as effected by adverse conditions existing in the river system during the summer months.
Despite its higher tolerance to these conditions, smelt catches decreased sharply in the late 1940's. The bag net fisheries were abandoned around the early 1930's.
The hook and line fisheries at Hallowell and Gardiner also disappeared.
How much impact the severe pollution experienced between the 1940's through the early 70's had on the smelt resource of the river is not known, but pollution had a direct negative impact on how many people used the resource.
Today the lower Kennebec River provides the largest winter recreational smelt fishery in the state of Maine. Colonies of smelt camps have been reestablished in the Hallowell and Gardiner area as a result of the dramatic improvement in water quality. In 1985 there were over 700 smelt camps on the tidal waters of the Kennebec River system including the tributaries to Merrymeeting Bay.
The Department of Marine Resources conducted intensive creel surveys of the Kennebec River winter smelt fishery from 1974 through 1982. The estimated annual catches were variable, ranging from 20,000 to 96,000 lbs. Some of the fish harvest by hand line fishermen are sold through local markets. There are presently no other commercial fisheries for smelt on the Kennebec River.
This fishery provides for 14,000 to 29,000 man days of fishing per year. Approximately 12 per cent of the fishermen are non-residents. Based on an economic survey conducted in 1982, it is estimated that the fishery at 1985 costs would have a value of approximately $500,000 based on direct expenditures.
There are two general laws covering the management of rainbow smelt. From March 15 to June 15 smelts can be taken only by hand dip net or hook and line. There is a 4 quart daily limit during this same time period. There are numerous special regulations covering specific streams. For example, the Eastern River and Abagadasset River are closed to the taking of smelt except by hook and line.
The Department of Marine Resources proposed legislation to the 112th Legislature to reduce the 4 quart daily limit to 2 quarts. This would have little impact on the smelt fishery in the Kennebec River because the only fishery occurring in the system during that time period, March 15th to June 15th, is the jig fishery in Augusta which is relatively small. There is no need to impose bag limits during the winter smelt fishery as tagging studies indicate that less than 5 per cent of the total population is being harvested. Other species such as tomcod, white perch, yellow perch, suckers, carp, sturgeon, brook trout and brown trout are taken incidentally to the smelt fishery. It appears that the smelt fishery has little impact on these species. There presently is no need for further regulations on the taking of smelt.
The striped bass played a vital role in the development of colonial America and were among the first natural resources of America brought under conservation legislation. The General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639 forbade the use of either fish as fertilizer for farm crops. The first public (free) school in the New World was partially supported by money derived from the sale of striped bass. A portion of the money was also expended in helping widows and orphans of men engaged in service to the Colony.
Atkins, Commissioner of Fisheries (1887), in referring to Maine's striped bass resources, recounted: "Bass were undoubtedly quite plenty in early times in most of the rivers west of the Penobscot." In reference to the Penobscot, old fishermen speak of having "plenty" but the degree of abundance was by no means equal to that existing in the Kennebec, and at no time has this species been marketed in any considerable numbers from the Penobscot or any river further east. On the Kennebec at Abagadasset Point, as late as 1830, bass were so plentiful that the fishermen had trouble disposing of those taken in the weirs. A single weir has been known to take 1,000 pounds at one tide.There was no demand for them and sometimes hired men would take them in pay.
A local fisherman recalled that about the time of their first decline in population he obtained a contract with General Millay, the keeper of the Bowdoinham town poor, to furnish 1,600 pounds of bass at 3/4 of a cent per pound, but the fish were not plentiful that year and he caught only 800 pounds.
In view of Atkins' observation, it is readily apparent that the historical striped bass resource of Maine supported a viable fishery. Unfortunately, before the striped bass became of any great demand the resource was already on a downward trend, never to return to its former abundance as a resident species. It is also apparent that the largest resident population in Maine occurred in the Kennebec River, although the Penobscot, Androscoggin and St. Croix were also known to have supported limited populations. The beginning of the end of large resident populations occurred around 1830 when a dam was constructed on the Penobscot River at Old Town. Unlike salmon, alewives, or shad, striped bass would not utilize fishways and the construction of dams completely eliminated those fish from upriver spawning grounds which were essential to their existence. The greatest blow to the Maine striped bass resource was the construction of the dam on the Kennebec River at Augusta in 1837. Limited reproduction in Merrymeeting Bay and the lower Kennebec was sufficient to sustain a limited fishery in the lower river during the late nineteenth century. The last commercial fishery probably supported by resident striped bass ceased to operate shortly after World War I. This was a winter fishery on the Sheepscot and Dyer Rivers by fixed gill net. This high salinity estuary was probably an overwintering area for some of the last resident stocks of Merrymeeting Bay. The striped bass of Merrymeeting Bay faded away with the shad fishery which disappeared in the late 1930's as a result of increased pollution from the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers.
Atkins (1887) further describes the habits of and fisheries for striped bass in Maine. "Bass are found in almost all brackish water of the state and ascend rivers a short distance at various seasons of the year. On the Kennebec, it used to ascend the main river as far as Waterville, and the Sebasticook a short distance above its mouth; but since the building of the dam at Augusta in 1837, its migration has been limited to that area. The principal run is in the month of June, at which time it feeds greedily, apparently ascending the rivers for that purpose. It continues to feed in weedy coves and bays until November. In the winter, great numbers of young, two or three inches long, are found in the rivers, and many of them fall into the bag-nets and are captured along with smelts and tomcods. Larger individuals appear in many cases to retreat to quiet bays and coves of fresh water in the lower parts of the rivers, and pass the winter in a state of semi-hibernation."
Bass were taken by four methods: dip nets set under the ice, stop-nets set in summer and autumn across the mouths of coves, gill nets, and by hook and line. Probably the stop-net fishery was most efficient in catching large numbers of fish with one account telling of 11,000 pounds being taken close to Bath.The abundance of striped bass is also mentioned in the early reports of the Commissioners of Fisheries of the state of Maine in 1867 noting that the Kennebec River and particularly Merrymeeting Bay and the Eastern River were major concentration areas for bass.
From late April through early November, migratory striped bass inhabit the entire coastal area of Maine, inland to the first upstream dam on major river systems and seaward to the outer Maine islands. These migratory fish are here primarily in pursuit of food, which at that time becomes quite abundant along the coast and in the rivers and streams. One of the most common attractants in the spring is the alewife, followed a few weeks later by sea herring and mackerel.
Striped bass feed heavily during these periods of abundant forage and are readily taken on various types and sizes of artificial lures or natural baits fished in a variety of ways. This provides for a coastal and estuarine sport fishery enjoyed by many throughout the spring and summer months.
The state record striped bass currently stands at 64 pounds and was taken on September 20, 1978. The lower Kennebec generally produces a few stripers each year in the 30-40 pound class, and many more over 20 pounds.
Since the early 50's there has been no evidence of striped bass spawning in the Kennebec River, and those fish available to the sport fishery in later years are believed to be migrants from Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River with Chesapeake Bay being the major contributor.
Merrymeeting Bay is the exception to Maine's high salinity estuaries. The restricted access for high salinity waters at the Chops (a constriction at the seaward end of Merrymeeting Bay) and the large volumes of freshwater discharged from the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers combine to create an extensive freshwater estuary.
Historically, this estuary supported the largest population of resident Maine striped bass, as evidenced by accounts of many small stripers taken in the winter smelt fishery, and of the commercial winter fishery for large striped bass. Even after the construction of dams at head-of-tide on the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers, which prevented migration of fish to upstream spawning areas, spawning populations of striped bass survived in the Merrymeeting Bay area, and supported a limited commercial fishery until the post-World War I era. Industrial pollution from the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers completely eliminated the remaining population, probably about the same time as the shad disappeared from the Bay in the early 1930's. In recent years the water quality has improved to the point that it is believed possible to reestablish a resident population in this area. In 1982 a juvenile striped bass stocking and tagging program was initiated to reestablish a self-sustaining native population of striped bass to the Kennebec/Androscoggin complex. In September 1982 the Department of Marine Resources captured 319 juvenile striped bass (fall fingerlings) in the Hudson River and transferred them to the Androscoggin River. In October 1983 a total of 572 fall fingerling striped bass were transported from the Hudson River to the Kennebec River estuary. In 1984 striped bass fry were obtained from Multi-Aquaculture Systems, Inc., of Amagansett, New York, and raised to fall fingerlings by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at its North Attleboro National Fish Hatchery. The fry were purchased with private funds by a non-profit organization known as the Committee to Restore Resident Stripers to the Kennebec River in Maine and in September 2,306 fingerling striped bass were released into the Kennebec at Richmond.
In order to protect the striped bass from excessive fishing pressure it became evident that some means of regulating the catch was necessary. In 1968 a law was passed making it unlawful to take striped bass in the coastal waters of the State of Maine, except by hooks and line or between sunrise and sunset by use of a spear. In September of 1983 additional legislation was passed making it unlawful to take or possess striped bass which are less than 16 inches fork length, and no more than four striped bass less than 24 inches fork length may be taken in any one day. In 1984 it became unlawful to market or sell striped bass and the creel limit went to four. In April 1985 the Department of Marine Resources recommended legislation which would make it unlawful to take striped bass which measure less than 24 inches fork length. This recommendation was enacted as law. New legislation would raise the minimum to 33 inches, a size which guarantees the stripers live to spawn at least once.
The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a catadromous fish species, which means it lives in fresh water and migrates to salt water for spawning. After spending from five to twenty years in a lake, pond, river, stream or estuary, adult eels migrate back to the ocean in the fall. They swim from their home river to the Sargasso Sea in the southwest North Atlantic where breeding takes place.
About one year after hatching, young eels, known as elvers or glass eels because of their transparent bodies, are brought by ocean currents to the edge of the continental shelf. They arrive along the Maine coast sometime in April at almost one and a half years of age and begin ascending rivers, streams and brooks.
Unlike most other fish species, eels are not particularly hindered by dams. When they come to a dam they are capable of continuing upstream by a number of methods including swimming up underground streams, crawling up the face of the dam, swimming through small breaches in the dam, or going around a dam on damp or wet ground.
Once in a river, the young eels gradually change from larval into adult form. As adults they are mostly nocturnal and eat a wide variety of both living and dead animal matter. Eels can reach a length of four feet and weights to 16 pounds, but the average is two and a half to three feet.
The eel has had a widely varying importance as a commercial species in Maine. It apparently reached its peak in 1912 when 400,130 pounds were landed with a value of close to $250,000. In recent years a number of commercial eel fishing operations have been established on the Kennebec, both below and above the Augusta dam. The fishing is done with large wire-mesh traps similar in construction to large minnow traps. Fishing activity for eels follows a pattern of several years of peak activity followed by several years of low intensity while adult populations rebuild.
Eels continue to provide a significant fishery resource in the Kennebec. They are hardy and resistant to most forms of pollution. Each spring large numbers of young eels are seen moving upstream.
While eels are common in the river, there is little sport or recreational fishing for them. While the flesh of eels is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, the eel's snakelike form and extreme sliminess make it an unpopular catch in Maine. Some use is made of six to 12-inch eels as bait for striped bass and bluefish.
The presence of commercial eel harvesting operations seems tied to the relative abundance of adult eels in the river, with catching operations lasting as long as there is a large supply of eels. Commercial fishing for elvers (small eels) has not been documented.
As long as water quality remains high enough to support other fish species, eels will thrive in the Kennebec. The presence of low head hydro dams does not appear to be a major obstacle to their reaching upstream areas because of their ability to travel overland if necessary.
Commercial overfishing may be a problem at some future date if suitable markets develop, especially for young elvers to be used in eel cultivation programs. It appears that commercial trapping operations can reduce the number of adult eels in a river to levels which make such trapping no longer economically feasible after two or three seasons of operation.
There are two species of sturgeon found in the Kennebec River from Popham Beach to Augusta: Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus) and Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevironstrum).
Both Atlantic sturgeon and shortnose sturgeon are anadromous species native to the Kennebec River. The Atlantic sturgeon spends the greater part of its life at sea and returns to fresh water to spawn, while shortnose sturgeon are not known to leave the influence of the river system. One of the major spawning areas for the Atlantic sturgeon in the Kennebec was between Augusta and Waterville, but construction of the Augusta dam in the early 1800's blocked all access to this important area.
The largest Atlantic sturgeon observed in the Kennebec River in recent years was 7 ft. 2 in. in length and was determined to be 40 years old.
The shortnose sturgeon is a much smaller and slower growing fish than the Atlantic sturgeon, and can be found in the tidal basin throughout the year. No mention of the shortnose sturgeon is made in the historical accounts of the Kennebec River sturgeon fishery, but is was probably present and went unidentified because of the difficulty in distinguishing shortnose sturgeon from young Atlantic sturgeon. Fisheries for sturgeon date back to the 1600's but the greatest numbers were taken in 1849 when 160 tons were caught and processed. Since the 1880's the sturgeon fishery has been almost nonexistent. Most of the recorded landings have been incidental catches. One exception was a small gill net fishery for Atlantic sturgeon in 1980, 81, 82, and 83. In 1980 there were 32 adult sturgeon taken, none in 1981 and 1982 and 3 in 1983. In the fall of 1983 the DMR, based on prior research and the lack of success of the fishery, felt it was necessary to close the sturgeon fishery in the Kennebec River until the stocks could recover. (DMR Regulation 39.02)
Due to limited spawning habitat of the Atlantic sturgeon it is unlikely that the population in the Kennebec River will ever reach the numbers once realized. However, a well regulated, limited fishery may become a reality in the future.
The shortnose sturgeon was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1967. It is now unlawful to take, possess, or molest a shortnose sturgeon, but a status change is possible which could allow the state to manage and regulate the taking of that species.
Sturgeon of the Kennebec are not known to compete with other species in the river for food or habitat. If a commercial fishery is established at some later date, it would present little to no conflict with the management of other species.
Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) f1are basically an open ocean, or pelagic, species, but they are known to travel well up the Kennebec River in pursuit of prey, especially menhaden. Large schools of bluefish have been recorded in Merrymeeting Bay and in the Cathance River as well, although they are not normally known to inhabit fresh water. Merrymeeting Bay above The Chops is considered fresh water.
There doesn't appear to be much recorded history about bluefish in the Kennebec River.
Bluefish are subject to large fluctuations in relative abundance. In addition, their northern range is greatly influenced by relative water temperatures and abundance of forage fish. They frequently travel in huge schools and are known for the ferocity with which they attack prey.
While bluefish ascend the river to Merrymeeting Bay, they are much more common below Bath and around the mouth of the river, particularly from Parker Head to the islands at the mouth of the river.
There is no established commercial fishery for bluefish in the Kennebec River. Sport fishing for bluefish is growing in popularity each year. The bluefish reach sizes to 20 pounds and are available from July through October. Juvenile bluefish have also been reported in the river as far north as Bath so reproduction appears to take place in the estuary.
Bluefish do not normally present management problems. Some years there is a die-off of both bluefish and menhaden when both species ascend too far up the river and deplete oxygen levels to the point they suffocate. They are subject to widely fluctuating population levels due to natural conditions which are not controllable. In the 1970's and first half of the 1980's they have been abundant each summer, but how long it will be before they decline again is something which can neither be predicted or controlled.
Brown trout (Salmo trutta) f1are not native to Maine but were introduced into the state in 1885. A planting of 3,500 fish at Bingham in 1941 was the first recorded stocking of brown trout into the main stream of the Kennebec River. It should be noted, however, that several lakes and ponds in the Kennebec drainage received plantings of browns late in the 19th century and some of these fish may have migrated (moved) into the river prior to 1941.
The history of the brown trout in Maine is to a large extent the history of sport fishermen attempting to offset the ravages of the industrial revolution as it affected native fish species. The dams, pollution, and overfishing that accompanied the march of European civilization in the New World made rivers like the Kennebec first inaccessible then uninhabitable for many indigenous (native) fishes. A species like brown trout, which could complete its life cycle within fresh water, was tough enough to withstand some degradation in water quality, and had an aquaculture and angling history, seemed to offer an ideal solution to the problem of coping with "modern times." Unfortunately, the "brown trout solution," like so many simple solutions to complex problems, fell short of its early promise of a miracle cure for the ills of this much abused river, the Kennebec.
Little is known of the fate of the initial brown trout plantings into the river. Two facts, however, may shed some light on the success of these early plantings. First, just two plantings were made into the river itself. It seems likely that these stockings would have been followed up by others had they provided a significant sport fishery. Second, water quality in the Kennebec, hardly a pristine water at anytime in the twentieth century, deteriorated rapidly as the century progressed. In fact, the Maine Water and Air Environmental Commission in its 1966 report on conditions in the lower Kennebec made reference to "vast fish kills...in 1947, 1957, 1963, and 1965." The Commission went on to note "...from approximately 6 miles above Augusta to over 20 miles below the 'Capital City', most of the waters are characterized by oxygen depletion, scums, sludge blankets, and odors being literally described as an 'open sewer'." It seems logical to conclude, therefore, that brown trout fishing and management in the Kennebec prior to 1976 was seriously compromised by poor water quality. The brown trout fishing that did exist in the river occurred in the spring and early summer at the mouths of tributaries or below dams, that is, at such times and in such places that tended to minimize the harmful effects of pollution.
While the brown trout sport fishery on the river's main stream was foundering, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife brown trout stocking programs in the lakes and ponds of the lower Kennebec met with considerable success and expanded rapidly. It is likely that prior to 1983 the river's brown trout sport fishery was based on poststocking migration (movement) of browns out of the lake systems into which they had been planted downstream into the Kennebec. Natural reproduction probably never played an important role in this fishery since sufficient high quality spawning and nursery areas were not available to brown trout because of dams and pollution.
Commercial fishing for browns seems not to have taken place in the Kennebec. It is possible, however, that a few browns may have entered the commercial fishery as a bycatch (incidental catch) in a fishery directed toward another species, such as alewives.
The sixth decade of the twentieth century saw the advent of the environmental movement. In Maine phrases such as "environmental consciousness" and "earthday," catchwords of the movement, were accompanied by more meaningful, if less dramatic, action such as the establishment of a water quality classification system for the waters of the state and the construction of pollution treatment plants.
And so, before the 70's had drawn to a close, water quality in the Kennebec began to improve. As D.O. (dissolved oxygen concentration) increased, problems with odor and appearance decreased and summer fish kills virtually disappeared. Fish populations became healthier and the sport fishermen of the Kennebec Valley, whose attitude toward the river had long been one of toleration or avoidance, began to return to the Kennebec. By the late 70's a significant fishery for black bass had developed and salmonid (coldwater fish species) anglers had discovered that the species they sought, although still few in number, seemed available in a larger portion of the river and over a greater time span as well. Public interest in a positive salmonid management program for the river grew steadily.
In 1983 the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife initiated an experimental salmonid management program in the Kennebec. The results of that experiment encouraged the department to develop a Kennebec River Brown Trout Management Plan. The first phase of the plan was implemented in 1985.
While the future of the river's brown trout sport fishery seems bright, it is important to temper this enthusiasm with a realistic appraisal of the problems that might prevent the full realization of the Kennebec's potential for a fishery for browns. Curiously, poor water quality, a problem seemingly solved in the 70's, remains the single, most important problem facing the development of any significant freshwater salmonid fishery in the Kennebec. It is important to note that the water quality attainment status (actual water quality now being observed in the river) of the lower Kennebec greatly exceeds the water quality standards for the lower portion of the river as established by law. Essentially, this means that the present water quality status of the river could actually be lowered legally. Existing water quality in the river is sufficient to support good growth and survival in brown trout; however, if water quality were to decrease to the levels permitted by statute, brown trout survival and growth would decrease and the opportunity to achieve the goals and objectives of the Kennebec River Brown Trout Management Plan would be seriously compromised.
Other problems that could jeopardize a successful brown trout sport fishery in the Kennebec include availability of sufficient hatchery fish, competition with other fish species, predation by other fish species, conflicts with other resource management agencies, and conflicts with other fisheries.
Warmwater sport fish commonly found in the Kennebec River from Waterville through Merrymeeting Bay are: Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieui), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), Chain Pickerel (Esox niger), White Perch (Morone Americana), Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), Brown Bullhead (Ictalurus nebulosus), Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), Red Breast Sunfish (Lepomis auritis), Pumpkinseed Sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus).
It is anticipated that within the next several years these species will be joined by the Northern Pike (Esox lucius).
Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are introduced species in Maine. It isn't known when either of these members of the sunfish family were first introduced into the Kennebec River. The first smallmouths were released in Maine waters in 1869 while largemouths came to Maine near the turn of the century. Probably both these species were present in the Kennebec shortly after these dates.
Pickerel are native to Maine, but not to the Kennebec watershed. They were probably introduced to the river in the early 1800's.
White perch, yellow perch, brown bullhead and both species of sunfish are native to the watershed.
Black crappie are a recently introduced species for the river. It is believed they originated in Sebasticook Lake where they were inadvertently established with a planned stocking of largemouth bass. Gradually crappies worked their way down Sebasticook River and into the Kennebec River. In 1983 crappie began showing up in angler's catches below the Augusta dam.
Northern pike are not yet thought to be present in the Kennebec but are expected to reach the river within the next several years. This large member of the pike family has been present in the Belgrade chain of lakes since the 1970's. They have established breeding populations in Great Pond and Long Pond and are thought to be in Messalonskee Lake as well. They are expected to gain access to the Kennebec River via Messalonskee Stream at Waterville. The river, and Merrymeeting Bay, seem to meet the habitat needs of this species and a breeding population is expected to establish itself.
Probably none of these species were important to either the Indians who inhabited the area or to the colonists since salmon, shad and sturgeon were all abundant. There is little historic reference to any of them.
During the industrialization of the river pollution probably depressed populations of all these species, but they share a common hardiness and fecundity which helps them survive during times when water quality is low and to increase their numbers rapidly when conditions are good.
Warmwater gamefish have increased in numbers as as water quality has improved. Smallmouth bass are abundant below the dams in Waterville and Augusta, and are well established in that section between those two communities. Largemouth bass were a rare fish in the river 10 years ago but now are common in the section from Waterville to Augusta, below the Augusta dam and at the mouth of Cobbossee Stream.
Yellow perch and white perch may be the two most abundant freshwater gamefish in the river. They are the most prevalent warmwater gamefish in Merrymeeting Bay.
Pickerel, sunfish and bullheads (sometimes called horned pout or catfish) are all basically pond or lake fish and the Kennebec River does not offer really good habitat for them, so they tend to be limited in number, although present in all sizes. Crappie seem to be well-suited to the river and show up well in quiet water areas, although their population can be said to be in the building stage.
Northern pike are known to thrive well in river habitats and there is speculation they will find the extensive shallows of Merrymeeting Bay excellent habitat when they spread to that part of the river.
It can be generally said that recreational fishing pressure for all warmwater fish species in the Kennebec River is currently light, but definitely growing in intensity as water quality improves, fish numbers increase and the public discovers the abundance of fish available.
In recent years fishing pressure has been concentrated immediately below the dams in Waterville, Winslow and Augusta, at the mouth of Cobbossee Stream in Gardiner, and at the Eastern River near Merrymeeting Bay.
Creation of a state-sponsored boat launch in Sidney has greatly increased boat access between Waterville and Augusta. This scenic area offers great potential for bass fishermen, particularly for smallmouths although all the other warmwater species are also present in this part of the river.
Currently there are a few anglers who are aware of the excellence of bass fishing in the Kennebec and specifically angle for those fish. However, the number of bass fishermen grows annually. Yellow perch are an underharvested species everywhere in Maine because of a traditional disdain for the species, although it is excellent eating. White perch are more popular and a number of anglers specifically angle for them in Merrymeeting Bay, particularly around the mouths of the rivers emptying into the bay.
Each year sees more people fishing the Kennebec for warmwater gamefish, both from the shores and from boats. At the same time, there seems to be a clear pattern of increased numbers of these gamefish, indicating improving water quality.
As long as water quality remains reasonably good, the warmwater gamefish species should present no particular management problems. All are capable of thriving even in the face of heavy angling pressure because of high reproduction rates.
Dams don't pose any problem for the management of these fish because there is suitable spawning habitat both above and below the dams and self-sustaining populations exist in all parts of the river to well above Skowhegan.
It may not be desirable to have another large predatory fish such as the northern pike in the river, but there is virtually no practical method available to stop their spread in any case.Since these fish are capable of reaching sizes in excess of 20 pounds, many anglers will welcome their presence when and if they become established in the river.
There is a potential problem between the larger warmwater gamefish - bass, pickerel, pike - and some of the anadromous species which inhabit the river. Such species as brown trout,Atlantic salmon and shad will all be preyed on by warmwater gamefish.
Another potential problem is the lack of regulations on warmwater gamefish below the Augusta dam. Because this is tidal water, bag and size limits which apply to species such as bass and pickerel are not in effect. All of these gamefish can be taken any time of the year by rod and reel or net, in any number and any sizes, from Augusta through Merrymeeting Bay.
Coldwater fish species found in the Kennebec River from Waterville to Popham Beach are: Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchu kisutch), Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush), Landlocked Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), Rainbow Trout (Salmo gairdneri), Round Whitefish (Prosopium cylindraceus).
Several of the species included in this group occur only occasionally in the main stem of the river, having entered the river from other adjacent waters; these are lake trout, lake whitefish, and round whitefish. The coho salmon is a very rare exotic species. Any coho salmon found in the Kennebec drainage are strays from other regions. Brook trout, landlocked salmon, and rainbow trout are much more common and have some degree of importance to the sport fishery in the lower Kennebec.
Little is known of the history of these species in the lower river. The brook trout is the most common of the species occurring naturally in that part of the river under consideration here. It continues to maintain riverine and anadromous populations in the main stem. Although the brook trout has always been important to the Kennebec River fishery, its major importance has always been in the small tributaries of the main stem. Both anadromous and riverine brook trout have been taken mainly as incidental catches in other fisheries for as long as men have fished the river.
Before the river was dammed lake trout may have been much more common in the main river. But, as is the case with other native coldwater species, lake trout would have been found most often in the upper reaches of the river, well above the range of this report.
In 1905 coho salmon were introduced to the river in great numbers. That stocking was unsuccessful and the coho salmon is no longer present in the river except, as mentioned before, as occasional strays from programs ongoing in other states, notably New Hampshire, and/or escapees from aquaculture projects. Increasing development of aquaculture in Maine and nearby states and provinces may provide the basis for an increase in numbers of coho and other Pacific salmonids in the Kennebec River.
At this writing landlocked salmon and rainbow trout are the most commonly taken coldwater fishes. Landlocked salmon were originally introduced to the Belgrade Lakes and CobbosseeconteeLake in 1878 and can be assumed to have found their way into the main stem of the river several years later. The number of salmon present in the river has fluctuated over the years as a result of many influences such as dams, pollution, stocking rates, and angling pressure. Currently landlocked salmon support a small but important sport fishery, with the bulk of the population occurring above Madison.
Rainbow trout were introduced to the upper sections of the main stem of the river in 1940. They provided a major contribution to the river's sport fishery until the termination of the stocking program in the mid 1970's. A small, self-sustaining population of rainbow trout continues in the main stem with occasional individuals straggling downstream at least to Augusta,and perhaps to Merrymeeting Bay.
Brown trout, addressed elsewhere in this report, are assuming an ever increasing role in the sport fishery of the Kennebec River.
The future of the coldwater sport fishery in the Kennebec depends on the development of viable fisheries management programs for specific species and the continued maintenance of a high quality habitat. The river has great potential to produce vast numbers of game and food fishes. Further development ofthese resources can only occur if funds for fisheries management programs and habitat improvement are maintained or increased.The fisheries will improve in direct proportion to the commitment of funds for fisheries programs and manpower.
Although this spring spawner is one of the most common fish species in Maine little is known about the early history of the common sucker (Catostomus commersoni) in our state. Despite its abundance, utilization of this species by Indians and early European settlers was probably light because of the availability of large numbers of Atlantic salmon, shad, alewives, and rainbow smelts.
Young common suckers can be an important source of forage for other fish species. Under some circumstances older, larger (in some waters adult suckers reach 4-5 pounds in weight) suckers can be serious competitors with gamefish species.
Commercial sucker fisheries to provide bait for smelt and lobster fishermen have developed in the Kennebec and its tributaries in the twentieth century. A measure of the intensity of this fishery is gained when one considers the recent closure of all tributaries to the Kennebec River and Merrymeeting Bay in the town of Bowdoinham to the taking of suckers from April 1 to June 15 annually. In other parts of the state suckers are captured for sale as baitfish in various inland sport fisheries, and it is likely that the Kennebec's sucker population is similarly used. Suckers are also captured by anglers for use as bait, i.e. outside the commercial market.
Common suckers do not enter the hook-and-line sport fishery except as incidental catches. A measure of "sport" is gained by enthusiasts of the spring spear fishery for suckers (permitted by law for licensed anglers between April 1 and June 30). Bow and arrow "fishing" for suckers, while also permitted by law, does not seem to be very popular with Maine sportsmen.
Since the timing of their spawning runs makes white suckers readily available to commercial lobster fishermen, when other baits are less available, the commercial sucker fishery is likely to be maintained at present levels and may even undergo expansion. The growing popularity of ice fishing on inland waters will probably provide increasing pressure on baitfish stocks, including white suckers.
Although suckers do not seem to challenge the popularity of traditional gamefish species such as trout and black bass anywhere in the country, they have gained at least a measure of respectability in some states. It is apparent, therefore, that this species could someday provide a worthwhile hook-and-line fishery for a portion of Maine's angling public.
Although at first glance serious management problems do not seem on the horizon for common suckers, the recent institution of restrictions on the spring fishery for suckers in some waters implies that intense fishing of this species' spawning runs can lead to over exploitation. Over exploitation of stocks and the concomitant restriction of harvest is likely to lead to increased pressure on remaining stocks and the development of friction between the various user groups.
Forage fish, also commonly referred to as baitfish, which are commonly found in the Kennebec River from Waterville through Merrymeeting Bay are: Northern Redbelly Dace (Phoxinux eos), Finescale Dace (Phoxinus neogaeus), Lake Chub (Couesius plumbeus), Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas), Common Shiner (Notropis cornutus), Blacknose Shiner (Notropis heterolepis), Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas), Blacknose Dace (Rhinichthys atratulus), Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus), Fallfish (Semotilus corporalis), Pearl Dace (Semotilus margarita), Longnose Sucker (Catostomus catostomus), White (Common) Sucker (Catostomus commersoni), Banded Killifish (Fundulus diaphanus), Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), Three Spined Stickleback (Gasteroseus aculeatus), Fourspine Stickleback (Apeltes quadracus), Ninespine Stickleback (Pungitius pungitius), Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus), Spottail Shiner (Notropis hudsonius).
Not a great deal of history is known about Kennebec River forage fish during Indian and Colonial times. Many of these species are members of the minnow family and being small it is doubtful they were of much use either to Indians or colonists.
While it is not recorded, the coming of the industrial age undoubtedly had a major impact on many of these species. Tidal river species such as killifish and mummichog would have upriver access denied by dams. The low water quality which characterized the Kennebec River during the height of its industrialization would have greatly reduced the numbers of certain types of forage fish. The more hardy species probably became the dominant fish species in the river.
Forage fish have responded strongly to a cleaner environment in the Kennebec. Samplings done below the Augusta dam through Merrymeeting Bay show the most abundant baitfish species to be shiners, killifish and mummichogs. Also abundant are juvenile white suckers and fourspine stickleback.
Presence of these baitfish are important for a number of reasons. For one thing, abundant schools of baitfish of diverse species are a good indicator of a healthy aquatic environment. For another, these forage fish are the primary source of food for a number of predatory gamefish such as bass, perch, pickerel and larger brown trout.
There may be considerable potential both above and below the Augusta dam for development of a commercial bait fish industry on the Kennebec. A certain amount of netting is currently conducted in the river to capture baitfish for sale as fishing bait. The extent of this fishery is not known.
Forage species are unlikely to present any management problems for the Kennebec River as long as water quality remains reasonably good.
Under-utilized fish species commonly found in the Kennebec River from Waterville through to Popham Beach are: Carp (Cyprinus carpio), Atlantic Tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus).
A popular European and Oriental food fish, carp were introduced into several dozen privately-owned ponds in Maine in the late 1800's. It is believed this large member of the minnow family became established when a number of them escaped from an impoundment on Bond Brook.
Little is known about either tomcods or lampreys during the Indian and colonial periods, but it is unlikely either species were extensively used. Lampreys would have been affected by dams and water pollution during the industrialized period, since they come into the river to spawn and require fairly clean, well-oxgenated water. Likewise, tomcod, also known as tommycod and frostfish, would be affected by pollution but not necessarily by dams because this is essentially a salt and brackish water species which usually doesn't venture far into freshwater portions of rivers, except during the winter for spawning.
Carp are a well-established species in Merrymeeting Bay and the Kennebec main stream to the dam in Augusta, as well as the other Merrymeeting Bay tributaries to the first upstream dam. They exist in large schools and may be the most abundant large fish species in the river. Often they can be seen in the shallows of the extensive rice flats of the bay as they feed and spawn during spring, summer and fall months. Despite five to seven feet of tidal fluctuations, Merrymeeting Bay and the many large coves of the main river seem to be ideal carp habitat. Merrymeeting Bay carp routinely reach weights of 10 pounds and get as heavy as 15 pounds.
Tomcod appear to be numerous in the river during the winter months when they ascend at least to Hallowell to spawn. They are frequently taken incidentally to smelt fishing.
Lampreys are an anadromous species which spend their adult lives in the ocean - unless landlocked - and come into rivers in the spring to spawn. The young, called larvae, spend seven to eight years buried in mud before migrating to sea. Because of the Augusta dam, lampreys may not be as numerous as they would be without the dam. They do spawn in such tributaries as Cobbossee and Togus streams. There is also spawning in the river itself below the dam. Some of the lampreys make their way over, around or through the Augusta dam. It is not certain how they pass this 12-foot high barrier, but they are frequently observed as far north as Waterville during July and August, and they are known to spawn in the brooks of this section of the river.
There is little serious fishing done for any of these three species, although there is considerable potential for sport fisheries for carp and tomcod.
Some efforts to net carp commercially have been made, but the fish are difficult to trap. Another problem may be finding a market for these fish since carp flesh is not popular in Maine or most of New England.
There is a potential for recreational use of carp. The fish are superabundant and available throughout the warm water months. Elsewhere carp are successfully fished for with kernels of corn, doughballs and specially prepared carp baits. They are even known to be susceptible to fly fishing techniques by fishing large, dark nymphs close to bottom in the shallows. Probably a major shift in angling attitudes would have to come about before any significant amount of carp angling takes place. A certain number are caught presently by anglers using worms in such places as the Eastern River and at the mouth of Cobbossee Stream.
Another recreational potential for carp is for the bowhunter. Because carp spend most of the warmwater months swimming in the shallows, often venturing into water less than a foot deep, they offer good, moving archery targets. A small number of archery hunters currently harvest carp in Merrymeeting Bay and the main river. As bowhunting grows in popularity in Maine, possibly shooting carp with bow and arrow will attract more devotees.
The sea lamprey is a parasitic fish which lives by attaching a rasping mouth to the sides of other fish and sucking their blood. The adults do not feed while in the river for spawning purposes and the larvae do not feed on blood while buried in mud.There is no sport fishing potential for lampreys, but there might be commercial potential. Lamprey flesh is a sought-after delicacy in parts of the Old World, allegedly being sweet and white. Developing a domestic market would require doing something about people's aversion to both eels and parasites.
There is considerable sport, and possibly commercial potential for tomcod during the winter ice fishing season. For some reason this small member of the cod family has never been popular with Maine anglers. Elsewhere in its range it is highly valued for eating purposes. Many areas have special tomcod fishing areas where shanty villages spring up, much as the smelting villages now are erected on the Kennebec each winter. At present, most tomcods caught while smelting are left on the ice for seagulls and other scavengers to collect.
Tomcod present no special management problems for the Kennebec. That hardly is the case with either lampreys or carp.
If lamprey gain access to the lakes and ponds of the drainage, they can do considerable damage to coldwater gamefish in these waters. Any efforts to increase upstream passage of desirable anadromous and catadromous species will have to take into consideration potential harm caused by lampreys gaining upstream access.
Carp also present a problem if upstream fish passage is arranged. First, they are extremely prolific in suitable waters and tend to crowd out more desirable species by sheer bulk of their numbers. Second, in their preferred habitat of weedy shallows they can cause sedimentation problems by rooting around in the bottom areas, ripping out aquatic plants and causing the water to be turbid. Maine's freshwater biologists have long opposed the spread of carp to upstream sites along the Kennebec, although it is unlikely any damage would result as long as the carp don't pass the dams at Waterville and Winslow.