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Our Projects > Studies and Information About York's Rivers, Maine > Fish & Aquatic Habitat


A comprehensive fish and aquatic habitat study might include the following:  a survey of freshwater, marine, and anadromous species in the river, its tributaries and ponds; water quality data including pH, temperature especially during the summer months, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen; stream channel characteristics including stream bottom composition, riffle and pool information, overhanging vegetation, and stream flow; ecosystem indicators including macroinvertebrate (water bugs) species and habitat.

Fisheries information for the York River, in constrast, is quite minimal.  Studies have been limited to species surveys on a few dates of sampling; much of the other known information is purely anecdotal.  Virtually no data has been collected on potential habitat, ecosystem, or stream channel characteristics.  Due to lack of data, it is not known whether York River populations are locally healthy, declining or increasing.  Local anglers may well be the best source of anecdotal information About York's Rivers.

A fair amount of information has been collected for nearby Wells Harbor, which provides similar salt-water habitat.


  • Almost no fish habitat information has been collected, for either saltwater or freshwater fishes.

  • Inland Fisheries & Wildlife's main role has been stocking of freshwater streams.  There has been little assessment of wild fish populations, although species sampling fieldwork was conducted at a few locations in 1958, 1995, and 1998.

  • There are no species surveys for marine fishes, at either the state or federal level.

  • Little is documented about the anadromous fish runs of the York River.
Specific Studies

F1. Freshwater Fish Inventories. Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. 1958, 1995, 1998.

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has done some fish surveys, including basic water quality monitoring data (temperature, pH). Not all locations were surveyed in all years. Please note that the York River is mostly estuarine, and this department only works in freshwater. Accordingly, their sample locations were on the smaller tributary streams and ponds.

The paper file includes a sample of field datasheets from 1958, 1995, and 1998 monitoring, along with a database printout with fish survey data from all years.  The data is not yet in GIS system, and does not include the basic water quality data that was collected as part of the field work.

Useful information from this database includes:

  • Swamp Darter, Maine Threatened - Cider Hill, Foley, Chase, Boulter Ponds; Cape Neddick River.
  • Brook Trout (native) - stocked in some places, wild in others.
  • Sea-run Brook Trout documented in MacIntire-Junkins Brook, Smelt Brook, Cutts Ridge Brook prior to Ledges golf course construction in 1994. IF&W biologist recommended annual monitoring of trout and insect populations, and for the golf course to leave a 100' buffer.
  • Alewives documented in Junkins Brook - May 6, 1958. Water temp. 51 F. Alewives typically run at the same time each year, late April through mid-May; the run is thought to be dependent on water temperature reaching 52 F.
  • Smelt in Smelt Brook at least until the construction of Belle Marsh Reservoir, 1994. IF&W recommended maintaining a spring flow of 2-3 cfs out of the reservoir during spring smelt spawning, approximately April 1-May 20. No data on the fish population has been collected since then.
  • Rainbow smelt spawning area is from Rt. 9 crossing at Brixham Lower Corners upstream to about 200' above the confluence of Smelt Brook and MacIntire Junkins Brook.

An interesting project could be a visual assessment of fish species in late April to early May, when observers might see Alewives and Spring Smelt. (See below: Organizing for a Fish Count.)

Contact: IF&W Grey Office, Jim Pellerin. 207-657-2345. For anadromous species survey information for nearby watersheds, and possible future monitoring in York River, contact Michele Dionne, at Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. 207-646-1555

F2. Freshwater Fish Stocking - Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. Annual, ongoing.

The upper reaches of the York River and its tributaries are stocked by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.  The stocking sites are fairly consistent from year-to-year.  They stock:
  • Brook Trout (native to this area) - spring stocking in 1999.
    • York River in Eliot at Frost Hill Rd. and Brixham Rd.
    • York Pond
    • Smelt Brook at Bell Marsh Rd.
  • Brown Trout (non-native, from Europe) - fall stocking in 1999.
    • York River in York
Links & Contact: Schedule for each year is available on IF&W's Fishing web page or from Region A office in Grey 207-657-2345.

F3. Fish Utilization of Restored, Created and Reference Salt-Marsh Habitat in the Gulf of Maine. Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. 1999.

This study looks at fish use of restored salt-marshes, compared to naturally-occuring salt-marshes.  It also includes a list of fish (see Table 3) that use the marshes.

No formal study has been done of marine or anadromous fish populations in the York River.  However, the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve has studied the fish populations in other areas, notably Wells Harbor and Webhannet and Little Rivers. To the extent that these are similar ecosystems, similar populations may be found in York.  Michele Dionne has also proposed a study for the York River, see F9, below.

Contact: Michele Dionne,at Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. 207-646-1555.

F4. Guide to Essential Fish Habitat Designations in the Northeastern United States - National Marine Fisheries Service.

This guide provides a list of marine fish species that rely on coastal and estuarine waters for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity.   The on-line report indicates that the Maine coastal waters from Kittery to Cape Neddick (including York Harbor and the York River, but also going further offshore) is essential habitat for Atlantic Cod, Whiting, Winter Flounder, Yellowtail Flounder, American Plaice, Atlantic Halibut, Atlantic Sea Scallop, Atlantic Sea Herring, and Bluefin Tuna.  These reports are based on presence of certain species in annual fisheries surveys.

Links: > Report for Maine waters from Kittery to Cape Neddick.  A specific report is not included for the York River, but the Great Bay and Wells do both have an estuary report.  Wells Harbor is probably the most similar estuary to the York River, according to a fisheries biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Contact:  National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester MA.  978-281-9102.

F5. Fish Consumption Advisories: Are the fish safe to eat?

The Maine Bureau of Health has issued fish consumption advisories for all fish in Maine, both freshwater and marine. This is due to mercury, dioxin, and PCBs found in most Maine waters.  The York River has no additional restrictions, beyond the state-wide advisories.

These advisories are about to be revised, in the spring of 2000.  The Bureau of Public Health is expecting to advise:

All fish species, both freshwater and marine:

  • Limit consumption to at most 1 meal per month for:
    • Pregnant/nursing women
    • Women who plan to become pregnant
    • Children under 8
  • Limit consumption to at most 1 meal per week for all other adults.

Lobster Tomalley:

  • The following should not eat Lobster Tomalley:
    • Pregnant/nursing women
    • Women who plan to become pregnant
    • Children under 8
  • All other adults should limit to no more than 1 meal per month.

The Bureau of Public Health is interested in sampling striped bass from Southern Maine locations as part of their research, and would consider sampling along the York River.  The York Rivers Association may want to advocate for this study.

Link:  For the most recent advisories, please see the Maine Bureau of Public Health (you may have to scroll down to see the fish advisory information).  Contact:  Dr. Andrew Smith, State Toxicologist. 207-287-5189. 

F6. Shellfishing - Soft-shelled clams.   Town of York Regulations.  1999.

The York River estuary supports a population of soft-shelled clams, which are available for harvesting, only during the winter, with a permit, downstream of Ramshead Point.  Upstream of this area, overboard discharges prohibit harvest.

The minimum clam size is 2".  The York Shellfish Commission has a re-seeding program in the York River, and is planting several hundred thousand seed clams per year.  These are being covered with nets, to prevent predation of the young clams.  (a particular problem is the invasive, non-native green crab).

Bacterial Pollution Closures: The river is closed to shellfishing upstream of Ramshead Point, east of Rt. 1, and downstream of Stage Neck, where the estuary opens up to become York Harbor. The river is open to shellfishing from Nov. 1 to May 15 between Ramshead and Stage Neck.

Red Tide Closures:  Also closes the clam flats periodically.  Red Tide Hotline: 1-800-232-4733.

Contact:  David Webber, York Shellfish Warden.  207-363-1721.

Angling Reports for Maine: Reel Time: the Journal of Saltwater Flyfishing. This on-line journal is typical of the electronic discussion among anglers each spring.  Through email lists and on-line chat boards, anglers track the arrival of migrating fish (bluefish, striped bass) on their journey northward.  In addition to posts from individual anglers, this journal includes an "official" report for current fishing conditions in Maine and throughout the east.


F7.  Proposal:  Aquatic Habitats of the York River and Its Tributaries: Assessment of Current Fish Use and Potential to Support Migratory Fishes.  Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. 1997.

This proposal sets forth a methodology to capture and study the marine fish in the York River, and to assess the river's habitat for spawning of anadromous fish.  This study, particularly if combined with volunteer-based surveys of anglers, would help to fill some of the gaps in the knowledge of the York River.

Contact: <Michele Dionne,at Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. 207-646-1555.

F8. Organizing for a Fish Count. Parker River Clean Water Association. 1999.

This document describes the method used by a volunteer group to estimate the alewife run in the Parker River, an estuarine river in northeastern Massachusetts.  The group counted at fishways installed in each of 6 dams along the Parker River.  The fishways provide a convenient place to count because all fish must pass through the fishways in one, narrow point.  The fish count collected data in the late 1990s which was compared to earlier studies from the 1970s, providing a 25-year picture of declining alewife populations.  It also built a local constituency for the alewife run, beyond local anglers.The York River, without fishways at which to count, and without earlier data for comparison, might have less scientific benefit from a fish count.

Links: Fish Count Homepage, Parker River Clean Water Association, including assessment report published in the Shad Journal.

Contact:  Rob Stevenson, Parker River Clean Water Association.  978-462-2551; or Becka Roolf (former Executive Director of Parker River Clean Water Association), now at the Rivers & Trails program: 207-729-0359.

Macroinvertebrate Sampling Methods.  See Habitat H8.

The EPA and RiverWatch Network have jointly developed a protocol for volunteer monitoring of macroinvertebrates as water quality indicators.  However, the macroinvertebrate information would also be of interest to fisheries biologists.  Hardcopy printouts are included in the file H8 in the Habitat section.  As the EPA index of macroinvertebrates has been developed for more southern states, it may be valuable to connect with the Maine DEP Biomonitoring program for a more local index:  Susan Davies, Maine DEP Biomonitoring Program. 207-287-7778.

Link: EPA Volunteer Stream Monitoring Manual.

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