Bowdoin received a major grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation to support the Maine fisheries research of John Lichter, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies and Director of the College’s Environmental Studies Program.
The $83,700 award will allow Lichter and co-investigator Eileen Johnson to determine whether Atlantic cod and other predatory groundfish in the Gulf of Maine are responding to recent restoration of key prey species – such as alewife – in the Kennebec River. These findings will inform other conservation projects in the state.
“We suspect that restoration of major alewife and blueback herring runs in the Kennebec system will lead to growing populations of nearshore groundfish like cod,” Lichter said. “If so, we will better understand the underlying ecology of Maine’s coastal ecosystems and how to restore and better steward these natural resources.”
Lichter’s project requires a specialized multi-beam sonar instrument that will allow him to quantify alewife, blueback herring, and shad as they migrate down the Kennebec each year, along with groundfish such as cod, haddock, and striped bass at the mouth of the river. He will then be able to assess whether the groundfish are congregating to prey on the migratory fish leaving the river system.
The project is the “crucially important next step to years of prior work collecting ecological data and social information to construct our restoration scenario models,” Lichter said. For the past five years, with funding from the Sustainability Solutions Initiative of the Mitchell Center and the University of Maine-Orono, Bowdoin carried out an interdisciplinary collaboration with Bates College and the University of Southern Maine to better understand the factors that influence ecological recovery of coastal fisheries and waterways. Faculty collaborators from Bowdoin included Lichter, Johnson, Guillermo Herrera (economics), Philip Camill (environmental studies; earth and oceanographic science), and recent Coastal Studies Scholar Ted Ames.
For this new segment of research, Lichter will conduct field work over the next several years with the assistance of summer research students and a senior-level class during the academic year. Johnson, who is Program Manager of Environmental Studies at Bowdoin, will collaborate on data collection, analysis, and management. Their findings will ultimately be delivered to the Maine Department of Marine Resources and federal fishery biologists. “There would likely be profound policy implications if we determine that cod or other groundfish are responding to the Kennebec restoration,” Lichter said.
In keeping with the Sewall Foundation’s mission – to support conservation of the natural environment and the well-being of animals and human beings, primarily in Maine – the project is focused on both ecological and socioeconomic goals within the region. According to Lichter, “even partial recovery of Maine’s once prodigious coastal fisheries would provide a source of revenue and many jobs for coastal communities, which would broadly benefit socioeconomic resilience.”