Lobstermen, fishermen, tribes, guides, scientists, urge legislators to listen to science, and let native fish return to St. Croix River
NRCM news release
Augusta, Maine — Today, lobstermen, tribal representatives, Maine guides, fishermen, and scientists converged on the State House to urge passage of a bill that would finally allow St. Croix alewives to return to spawn in upstream lakes (LD 72, An Act to Open the St. Croix River to River Herring). Because fishways are already in place at dams on the St. Croix, LD 72 would restore alewives without costing any money. Unfortunately, the LePage Administration has introduced a competing bill, LD 584, that would severely limit the number of alewives allowed to return and would likely cost the State of Maine $50,000 per year.
Alewives are a native Maine fish essential to Gulf of Maine groundfisheries and the lobster industry. They are part of healthy rivers and watersheds.
“My father, like many others in his generation used to be able to catch cod, haddock and hake in the spring and summertime, and then haul traps for lobster in the summer and fall,” says Jason Joyce, a commercial fisherman. “Now, those fish have been gone for over 20 years. They’ll start to come back if there’s some feed around — that includes alewives. The juvenile alewives from rivers like the St. Croix along the Downeast coast will help rebuild our inshore groundfish stocks. If we bring back the fish, they could support communities up and down the coast as they had before for roughly four hundred years.”
“Maine’s lobster industry needs alewives for bait, but there are so few alewives now we import expensive bait from away,” says David Cousens, President, Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “The Maine Legislature can fix that at no cost and I say — just do it.'”
LD 72 would overturn a misguided 1995 law that blocks upstream passage for alewives in the St. Croix River, which forms the border between Maine and New Brunswick. Passage of this bill will benefit the Passamaquoddy people, Maine’s commercial fishing industry, and fish and wildlife throughout the Gulf of Maine.
In the 1980s, more than 2.6 million alewives traveled up the St. Croix River to spawning habitat in upstream lakes, but the number of returning alewives collapsed to fewer than 1,000 fish after the Maine Legislature closed the Woodland and Grand Falls dams to alewives in 1995. Although there is no scientific evidence to support the closing, smallmouth bass fishing guides claimed alewives harm the smallmouth bass that live in the upstream lakes and convinced lawmakers to take this destructive action. Smallmouth bass and alewives coexist in lakes and waterways throughout Maine and the east coast of North America. They will also do so in the St. Croix if the Legislature passes LD 72.
“One of the best places in the world to fish is in Maine smallmouth rivers, primarily in rivers that have alewives, like the Kennebec and the Sebasticook,” says Macauley Lord, Maine Guide and flyfishing instructor. “Lacking alewives, the St. Croix is not the bass fishery it could be, so I’ll stay south. Sadly, blocking a strong run of alewives from the St. Croix will only result in a bass fishery that continues to be left behind.”
The Passamaquoddy Tribe is also unified in its support of LD 72.
“For thousands of years, the Passamaquoddy’s physical and spiritual sustenance depended on alewives and the creatures that prey on them,” says Joe Socobasin, Chief, Indian Township. “They are as much a part of our culture as are the land, the air, and the water, which define us as a People. Without these things, we are not whole. Maine needs to respect the right of all things to exist as it was intended by the one who made all.”
“We are the ‘People of the Pollock Place’, but the pollock are gone,” says Clayton Cleaves, Chief, Pleasant Point. “So too are the halibut, haddock, and cod that came in to Passamaquoddy Bay to chase the alewives as they swam up the St. Croix to spawn. All of those fish are now gone from our shores. The Legislature needs to pass LD 72 and let the alewife fulfill its life cycle as it was created to do.”
Fisheries biologists say that opening up the St. Croix River to alewives may result in 20 million fish each year, which would be the largest alewife run in the nation and significantly help boost groundfish in the Gulf of Maine. Maine scientists think the disappearance of cod along Maine’s coast is linked to the dramatic decline in the number of alewives, compared to historic levels. Large numbers of cod used to follow alewives towards the shore when they swam up rivers to spawn in the spring. There, the lucrative cod can be caught by Maine’s fishermen more easily.
“Restoring millions of alewives to the St. Croix River will not cost a dime,” says George Lapointe, former Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “It only requires passing a bill to allow a plywood board to be removed from fishways, but it would mean so much to Maine’s fishing industry.”
A broad coalition supports LD 72 and full restoration of St. Croix alewives. Partial list:
- Joe Socobasin, Passamaquoddy Chief, Indian Township
- Clayton Cleaves, Passamaquoddy Chief, Pleasant Point
- George Lapointe, former Department of Marine Resources Commissioner
- Jason Joyce, Commercial Fisherman
- Maine Lobstermen’s Association
- Penobscot East Resource Center
- Macauley Lord, Master Guide and internationally- known flyfishing instructor
- Ray “Bucky” Owen, former Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner
- Maine Audubon
- The Nature Conservancy
- Maine Rivers
- Downeast Salmon Federation
- Alewife Harvesters of Maine
- Natural Resources Council of Maine
- Conservation Law Foundation
- Downeast Lobstermen’s Association
Read NRCM’s LD 72 testimony and view attachments here.
Letter to Chairs of the Committee on Marine Resources from NOAA
Letter to the International Joint Commission from the US Fish & Wildlife Service
LD 72 testimony by Macauley Lord