Returning native river herring to the river may create largest run in the nation, over time
Augusta, Maine — Today, is a big day in the lives of river herring of the St. Croix River, as a bill became law that will finally allow alewives to return to spawn in upstream lakes (LD 72, An Act to Open the St. Croix River to River Herring). This move has the potential to create the largest alewife run in the United States, over time.
Maine’s new law was supported by overwhelming numbers in the Maine Legislature, which voted 123-24 in the House, and 33-0 in the Senate, to remove obstacles to alewives in the St. Croix River. Fishways are already in place at the dams there, so restoration simply requires the removal of some plywood at the top of a dam, and will not cost any money. The law has been supported by legislators, scientists, tribes, conservationists, lobstermen, fishermen, and others.
The new law overturns a misguided 1995 law that blocked upstream passage for alewives in the St. Croix River, which forms the border between Maine and New Brunswick. Opening the river to alewives, a native Maine river herring, will benefit the Passamaquoddy people, Maine’s commercial fishing industry, and fish and wildlife throughout the Gulf of Maine.
“Our ancestors would be very proud today. Reopening the St. Croix River to alewives is an historic event for the Passamaquoddy People, and for all of our neighbors in Maine and Canada,” said Brian Altvater, Founder and Chair of the Passamaquoddy group, Schoodic Riverkeepers.
“The tribe has always maintained a connection to the environment. The passage of LD 72 is important to our neighbors and to all who live in the Passamaquoddy Bay region. It is important to the Passamaquoddy People, Canadians, the state of Maine, groundfishermen, and lobstermen. It is important also to all the creatures that depend on river herring for food—cod, halibut, pollack, ospreys, and eagles, to name a few. We call alewives ‘the fish that feeds all.’”
“The return of alewives to the St. Croix River offers new hope for the health of the Gulf of Maine and its fisheries. The St. Croix can now become the largest alewife run in the nation, over time,” said Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “NRCM has been working to reopen this river to its native fish since 2001, to make this ecosystem whole again. As the alewife population rebounds, it will help rebuild Maine’s groundfish stocks and supply bait for Maine’s lobster industry, which is now importing expensive bait from away.”
In the 1980s, more than 2.6 million alewives traveled up the St. Croix River to spawn 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 in 1995. Although there is no scientific evidence to support the closing, smallmouth bass fishing guides claimed alewives harm the 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 with the passage of LD 72.
A broad coalition supported this law (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
• The Downeast Salmon Federation
• The Alewife Harvesters of Maine
• The Natural Resources Council of Maine
• The Conservation Law Foundation
• The Downeast Lobstermen’s Association
• The Atlantic Salmon Federation
• Trout Unlimited