What’s in a Picture

Boat full of fish
Photograph by Rick Lawrence

From our May 2017 issue.

During the annual alewife migration up the Sebasticook River, harvesters beneath the hydroelectric dam in Benton can scoop fish into their skiffs by the netful. “The river just turns brown with them,” says local alewife warden Rick Lawrence, who snapped this photo from atop the dam. “It’s like in old stories about how people could almost walk across the water on the fish.” In 2009, after years of dam removals and fishway constructions, alewives swam through Benton en masse for the first time in two centuries. Now, the run is one of the largest in the country. More than 3 million alewives trekked up the Sebasticook from the Atlantic last year to spawn in lakes and ponds (where juvenile fish improve water quality by eating phosphorus-laden plankton). Most of the annual catch becomes lobster bait, although some of the haul gets smoked and set aside for the Benton Alewife Festival, where, Lawrence notes, dinner attendees get served a lobster with a side of the festival’s small, bony namesake fish, “whether they want it or not.”