NRCM news release
(Augusta, ME) — Maine’s tribes will receive long-sought water quality protections for sustenance fishing under a bill signed into law by Governor Janet Mills today. Along with an upgrade of legal protections for more than 400 miles of rivers and streams that was signed into law on Tuesday, it will represent the most significant upgrade of clean water protections for Maine’s rivers in a decade.
“These long-overdue legal protections recognize that clean water is a key ingredient for preserving Maine’s way of life,” said Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The protection of sustenance fishing in tribal waters is a hard-fought victory for Maine’s tribes. These essential clean water protections will benefit Maine’s tribes and the countless Mainers who use the waters that these two bills protect.”
Until now, the State of Maine has never created water quality criteria aimed specifically at protecting sustenance fishing for Maine’s tribes, causing a long dispute between the tribes and the State.
LD 1775 will establish sustenance fishing as a “designated use” for tribal waters identified by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Maine’s four tribes: the Penobscot Indian Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Houlton Band of Maliseets, and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. Within these waters, the new law protects sustenance fishing by calculating criteria for water contaminants based on a daily fish consumption rate of 200 grams (about seven ounces per day).
Although state and federal law requires DEP to assess the quality of Maine’s waters every three years and propose higher levels of protection where appropriate, the Department has not done so since 2009.
Portions of the Penobscot main stem and West Branch, and 200 miles of trout streams flowing into Webb Lake near Tumbledown Mountain, are among the stretches of water that will receive upgraded legal protection under LD 1743. The new law also protects the free-flowing character of the Penobscot main stem below Milford to lock in the enormous fish passage and water quality successes of the 15-year Penobscot River Restoration Project. All the rivers and streams being upgraded already meet the higher water quality standards being proposed and reflect years of detailed monitoring.