Federal officials pledge continuing support to help restore one of largest alewife runs in the nation
Baileyville, Maine — Today, Tribal and federal Trustees joined with state and nongovernmental partners and Canadian officials to celebrate the reopening of the Grand Falls Dam fish ladder, which has been closed for more than two decades, limiting river herring to just 2 percent of their historic spawning grounds on the St. Croix River.
With the removal of a wooden obstruction at the dam, herring will now be able to reach more than 50 percent of upstream lake habitat. The St. Croix River, which forms the border between Maine and New Brunswick, has the potential to become one of the largest alewife runs in the United States with benefits to the Passamaquoddy people, Maine’s commercial fishing industry and fish and wildlife throughout the Gulf of Maine.
After access to the Woodland and Grand Falls fish ladders in Maine was closed in 1995 and alewife were denied access to nearly 98 percent of their historic spawning grounds, alewife populations plummeted—from 2.6 million in 1987 to 900 in 2002.
The fish ladders were closed at these two sites because inland sportfishing guides feared the alewives would harm the smallmouth bass populations in the region’s lakes and ponds. The reopening of the fish ladders gained broad support after research demonstrated that smallmouth bass and alewives can coexist in lakes and waterways throughout Maine and the east coast of North America.
A conservative estimate of the economic benefits of reopening the fish ladders on the St. Croix River and rebuilding its alewife run are between $3.1 to $5.9 million. This would be derived from just the re-establishment of a herring bait fishery, alone.
Lobstermen would have a lower cost and potentially more ecologically friendly bait source because the bait would be local, reducing the risk of introducing detrimental parasites or pathogens from imported fish.
Re-establishing a healthy alewife run in the St. Croix watershed will benefit freshwater and marine ecosystems alike, and the many organisms that depend on them for food such as groundfish, Atlantic salmon, cod, ospreys, and eagles. There would also be economic benefits to the region from improved bird watching and recreational fishing opportunities. The return of alewives is also essential to the endurance of Passamaquoddy culture and tradition, as well as the economy and identity of the region as a whole.
The St. Croix River Herring Homecoming is a commemorative event hosted by the Passamaquoddy Tribe to mark the return of alewives to their traditional spawning habitat in the St. Croix River and to honor all of the tribes, federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations who have participated in the effort to make this restoration a reality.
“It is with great joy that I stand in a place where my people and I belong and welcome the return of Siqonomeq and her family to the place where they, where we all belong,” Chief of Passamaquoddy, Clayton Cleaves.
During the celebration, guests were treated to Tribal ceremonial songs and dance, including the Passamaquoddy Welcome and Alewife songs and the “Round Dance.” U.S. and Canadian officials also made brief remarks. The event wrapped up with Tribal and federal government officials signing of a pledge to continue to work together to bring back river—run fish to this important Maine watershed.