State lawmakers said they want to see management information before the fishway at the Palermo lake is opened.
by Jessica Lowell, staff writer
Central Maine newspapers news story
AUGUSTA — People who live around Sheepscot Pond lined up last week to tell state lawmakers that the lake should not be opened up to migrating alewives and eels.
In the short run, they may get their way.
The Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources voted 8-3 in a work session on Wednesday to make some changes to L.D. 922, a bill introduced a year ago that would allow fish passage into the pond in Palermo.
Among them are a delay in opening the fish passage until April 15, 2020, and a report to the committee by the commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife on biosecurity measures at the fish cultural station at the south end of the pond and how the lamprey eel population will be managed to insure they won’t become landlocked and prey on the fish in the lake.
Those changes will be reviewed next week before the bill heads for floor for debate.
“I am not completely unhappy with how it went,” Lynda Pound said Wednesday.
Although she had to return to Florida following last week’s public hearing, she listened to the audiostream online.
“It leaves us more dedicated than ever to bring all the facts out before this comes to pass,” Pound said.
Pound, the Sheepscot Lake Association and other Palermo residents have been working since last year’s legislative session to gather support to fight the bill after action on the bill was delayed.
Fish passage is possible during most of the year at the lake that’s currently under the control of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. The only time it’s closed off is during the months when alewives and eels travel upstream to spawn.
The bill, brought by Rep. Jeffery Pierce, R-Dresden, last year, directs the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources to open the fishway at the south end of the lake for the spring spawning of alewife and eel populations.
Town residents say they weren’t aware of the bill when it was first filed, and they didn’t have a chance to speak at the hearing in the last legislative session.
They turned out in force a week ago. More than 100 area residents and members of the Sheepscot Lake Association attended.
They testified over a wide range of concerns, including the effect of opening the lake to migratory species would have on the fish cultural station that’s operated by Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and the effect they would have on the self-sustaining lake trout population that’s a sport-fishing draw to the Waldo County town. They also said the lake that exists now, dammed up in 1949, is not the same lake that alewives once occupied.
Residents who live around Long Pond, downstream from Sheepscot Pond, said they were worried about possible flooding, if the flow from the lake is changed at all.
Also testifying were representatives from a range of organizations such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who support restoring alewives to their historic range, including Sheepscot Pond. They say allowing alewives back into their historic range promotes healthy ecosystems.
The public hearing also drew comments from the lobster industry in favor of expanding the range of alewives, which are harvested for bait.
During their brief deliberations, Marine Resources Committee members acknowledged the breadth of the testimony, which included a memo from Gov. Paul LePage that urges both Marine Resources and Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to “use an abundance of caution and maintain the status quo as it relates to the passage of river herring into Sheepscot Pond.”
Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Kelliher said he interpreted that to mean the fish passage ought to remain closed during spawning season.
Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, committee co-chairman, offered up the amendment, noting the committee could choose to delay opening the fishway beyond 2020.
“The idea is that reporting back is an opportunity for this committee to review and make sure it’s satisfactory,” Kumiega said.
Other lawmakers on the committee said they were persuaded by the testimony of Palermo residents to vote against the measure.
Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, the committee chairwoman, was among the three to vote against the measure.
“I’m uncomfortable that we’re telling a director of a commission we have no oversight over what to do,” Maker said.