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Alewife Fishladder, Damariscotta Mills


Damariscotta Mills Alewife Fish Ladder, Spawning Alewives, small

According to the literature, “Damariscotta” is derived from the Native American word meaning “place of an abundance of alewives” or “river of many fish”. If you visit the fishladder, originally constructed in 1807, you will get the idea pretty quickly. Usually beginning in May and lasting about a month, thousands and thousands of Alewives crowd the waterway trying to find the strongest current to swim against, which will hopefully get them to their ultimate destination of Damariscotta Lake where they will spawn.

The ascent from the Great Salt Bay to Damariscotta Lake is about 42 feet. The fishladder is a combination of steps and resting pools where the Alewives gather to rest during their arduous climb. You can easily get caught up in this natural struggle for reproduction and survival, watching the silvery flashing fish crowding in the pools, waiting for the next fish to muster it’s strength and break away from the group wriggling forward in the current and into rushing water. Then one slips past the confluence and into the next pool to begin the process all over. Whew!

All the while, herring and black-back gulls plod around the edge of the pools snatching and gulping the occassional morsel. And Ospreys cicle overhead, searching the channel for a target. Then they tuck their wings and dive into the water with a splash before beating their wings heavily and slowing lifing thelves out of the water. Most of the time with a fish tightly gripped in their talons.

Seals can also be seen in the Bay, as well as large feeding brown trout and other fish. Some really big bass wait for the Alewives at the very top of the ladder.

The path along the fish ladder is free and open to the public from Dawn to Dusk. Some of the path is along or on private property. Please respect their property. Absolutely no trespassing is allowed after dark.

Contact: Damariscotta River Association, PO Box 333, Damariscotta, ME 04543, Phone: 207-563-1393, Email: or Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association PO Box 232, Newcastle, ME 04553, Phone: 207-563-1393.

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