About 40 minute from Camden, scenic Damariscotta Mills offers up one of Maine’s natural wonders: a thriving spring run of alewives. These silvery fish, which are related to herring, return from the sea each spring and “run” the streams and rivers to spawn in lakes and ponds. Thousands of these foot-long fish returning at the same time can pack a stream. And the spectacle is made even more exciting by the presence of all the gulls, cormorants, eagles, ospreys, and even seals that prey on the fish as they pack into the fish ladder!
Historic fish ladder over 200 years old
The stone-wall fish ladder in Damariscotta Mills was built in 1807 to aid the fishes’ passage and to make them a bit easier to harvest. The historic ladder was restored in 2007, and the alewife run, as well as their harvest, continue. It is now one of the state’s oldest and most productive alewife fisheries.
You can learn more about the fish ladder and the thrilling alewife run, and see many more photos of the fish (and the birds that eat them), at the Damariscotta Mills Fishladder Restoration website.
In addition to watching the wildlife action at the fish ladder, visitors may also safely walk alongside much of the fish ladder. Nets protect the masses of fish in the ladder from birds of prey and grasping human hands. Kids and adults alike marvel at the sight of thousands of fish slowly but surely wriggling their way up the relatively steep stream, moving from pool to pool.
Other nearby activities make this a great family day-trip: Walk the trails at the Damariscotta River Association’s Great Salt Bay Farm nearby. Then pop over to the popular Round Top Ice Cream stand on Route 1A/Main Street in Damariscotta for some of Maine’s best ice cream!