The Benton municipal fishery resumed for the first time in 198 years as the result of the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta, Maine and a ten-year restoration program. Repeat spawning rate for the Benton fishery is unknown. Maine fisheries staff collected scale samples in 2010 and will analyze these scales this winter. The Maine Department of Marine Resources currently manages this system for a commercial escapement of 35 fish per acre. The spawning escapement need for this system is 379,890
river herring passed upstream into spawning habitat. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife did permit a limited dip net fishery in the river, below the first dam, for seven years (2000-2006). MDMR staff believes landings for this period were underreported based on the numbers of fishing permits issued and the number of landings reported at the end of the year. The MDMR closed the fishery in 2007 to allow the municipality of Benton to reacquire historical rights to the fishery. The Town of Benton conducted its first commercial dip net fishery in 2009.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources began the Sebaticook River Restoration Project by stocking 6 fish/acres into available historic spawning habitat as permitted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The initial stocking, which placed 57,533 pre-spawn adults within the 10,854 acres of spawning habitat, created an estimated run on the Sebasticook River ranging between 1.5 and 3.5 million fish within six years. There was no permanent upstream passage available until the State of Maine and conservation groups removed the Fort Halifax Dam in 2008. Prior to 2007, a limited commercial dip net harvest below the first dam on the river captured returning adults. The fish escaping the fishery remained below the dam until they dropped out of the system during early summer. Estimates of the number of river herring remaining below the dam range from 1.25– 3 million individuals.
Several ponds within the Sebasticook River drainage provide excellent spawning and nursery habitat. These habitats currently support the largest monitored river herring run in Maine. Continued restoration efforts in the watershed will open additional historic spawning areas over the next several years. Two hydropower dam remain on the main stem of the river. Both dams have dedicated upstream and downstream passage. There are no passage efficiency numbers establish for either site at this time.
Upstream passage counts during the past two seasons ranged from 1.3 to 1.6 million individuals. The municipal commercial harvest plan restricts harvest gear at the base of the hydropower dam to dip nets and cast nets (Figure 32). These gear types severely limit the numbers of fish that the harvester can access during the season. The Maine Department of Marine Resources in conjunction with the hydropower company, operates and monitors upstream passage. Upstream passage is a priority at this location with 100,000 fish required to pass prior to commencing harvest activities. Spawning habitat is available above and below the dam for blueback herring but not alewife. There is a mix of blueback herring in the commercial alewife catch toward the end of the season. Most of the blueback herring escape the commercial alewife fishery due to the early closed date of June 5 each year. Blueback passage numbers at the Benton fish lift exceeded 400,000 for the season.