A Fish Runs Through It: Restoring Fishways on the Presumpscot and St. Croix Rivers

Jun 12, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Slowly but surely fish are returning to the Presumpscot and St. Croix rivers and your support of CLF is making that happen. As detailed in this recent article, the years of litigation to force the South African Pulp and Paper company to allow fish like alewives and blue back herring to get beyond their first dam on the Presumpscot River is bearing fruit. Similarly, this recent report documents that, for the first time in two decades, alewives are able to access large swaths of the St. Croix River watershed – a result of CLF’s work to force the State of Maine to reopen a fishway it had blocked based on bad science and, literally, fish tales as noted here.

The return of these fish to their native habitats, achieved with partners such as the Friends of the Presumpscot River, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and American Rivers, is good for recreational and commercial fishermen because alewives and herring are critical parts of the food chain, serving as food for bigger fish – such as cod, salmon, and striped bass – for mammals and birds of prey in the watershed, and as a bait fish for lobstermen. Moreover, for a river like the Presumpscot, which less than 50 years ago was still treated much like an open sewer, it is a stunning achievement and reflection of the power of laws like the Clean Water Act.

Of course, there remains much work to be done on the Presumpscot and the St. Croix, as well as on many other rivers in Maine. But the success of our work on these two waterways bodes well for the future of Maine’s rivers and the return of their historic fish runs. And that’s something worth celebrating!

This Week on TalkingFish.org – June 10-14

Jun 14, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

June 10 – Day of Celebration on the St. Croix – It’s not often you get the chance to celebrate such a clear victory for the environment as the return of the alewife to the St. Croix River watershed. As discussed in prior posts, a Maine law prohibiting alewives from accessing this fish ladder at the Grand Falls Dam was repealed this past May and for the first time in two decades, alewives are able to return to their spawning grounds upriver.

June 10 – Veteran Gloucester Journalist Richard Gaines Dead at Age 69 – We at Talking Fish are saddened to hear of the passing of Gloucester Daily Times columnist Richard Gaines yesterday afternoon. Richard worked for 11 years at the Daily Times covering city hall, politics, and the fishing business, and in his 40-year career, he also worked as a political writer for UPI and as editor of the Boston Phoenix. Our thoughts are with his wife, family, colleagues, and the Gloucester community.

June 12 – The Bottom Line: For New England’s Fishing Fleet It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again – Twenty years later, the sense of déjà vu is unshakeable. A new season brings a troubling scenario of depleted fish populations and deficient management. Fourteen of the region’s 20 groundfish—or bottom dwelling—species are currently overexploited. Cod stocks are at the lowest levels ever recorded. New England’s best captains could not find enough cod in the past year to meet more than a third of their allotted quota on Georges Bank. It is, officially, an economic disaster, as the U.S. Department of Commerce declared last fall. In short, here we are, with our storied fishing grounds in even worse shape than they were two decades ago.

June 14 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, June 14 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, a Globe editorial says Attorney General Martha Coakley’s lawsuit has “destructive potential”; Gloucester Daily Times journalist Richard Gaines dies; Cape Cod fishermen seek cleaner fuels; the Cape’s first great white shark of the season spotted off Orleans; Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez answer questions on groundfishand Cape Wind; Connecticut scales back salmon stocking efforts; Maine defeats a bill to let groundfishermen land lobster; the MA State House holds a hearing on seafood mislabeling; Senator Mo Cowan adds amendments to the Farm Bill to help fishermen.

Day of Celebration on the St. Croix

Jun 7, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Alewives - St. Croix celebration

Members of all groups participate in a Circle Dance lead by Passamaquoddy Leaders

It’s not often you get the chance to celebrate such a clear victory for the environment as the return of the alewife to the St. Croix River watershed.  As discussed in prior posts, a Maine law prohibiting alewives from accessing this fish ladder at the Grand Falls Dam was repealed this past May and for the first time in two decades, alewives are able to return to their spawning grounds upriver.  The victory was celebrated not only with partners like Chief Clayton Cleaves of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Downeast Salmon Federation but also with former adversaries, like the US EPA who we sued in order to break the logjam with the federal agencies and establish that the Maine law violated the Clean Water Act. For more background on the case and additional media coverage of this event, see these articles by MPBN and Bangor Daily News.

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Sean Mahoney and son Owen hold one of the boards removed from the fish ladder

With the removal of this board  and six other just like it, the fish ladder is now open and alewives are returning to the St. Croix River. Work remains to be done on the St. Croix and it was heartening to witness representatives of the Federal trust agencies and the Passamaquoddy Tribe sign a statement of cooperation pledging to  work toward the complete restoration of the St. Croix River. CLF will continue to advocate for the restoration of alewives and blueback herring not only on the St. Croix River but in watersheds throughout New England. And just as importantly, CLF will be working to reduce the bycatch of these critical forage fish at sea when they are migrating back to their natal waters.

It was wonderful to share in the day with CLF board members Davis Pike and Anne Hayden, and CLF supporter Owen Mahoney, as well as other partners such as Lisa Pohlman of NRCM and Landis Hudson of Maine Rivers.  While much work remains, it is truly a thing to celebrate when we are able to reverse the damage we have done to our environment by building broad coalitions, using good science, holding accountable those who are entrusted to enforce the law, and, in this case, removing 7 boards from a fish ladder.

From left: Lisa Pohlman, Davis Pike, Sean Mahoney (with fish), Anne Hayden, and  Landis Hudson

From left: Lisa Pohlman, Davis Pike, Sean Mahoney (with fish), Anne Hayden, and Landis Hudson

This Week on TalkingFish.org – June 3-7

Jun 7, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

June 6 – The Most Valuable Fishery You’ve Never Heard Of – On May 31, Maine’s elver fishing season came to a close. For the small number of Maine fishermen who can make over $100,000 in two months capturing elvers, the end of the season may come as a bit of a letdown. For the regulators and conservation officers who try to manage the fishery, however, the close probably comes none too soon.

June 7 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, June 7 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, ocean acidification will affect squid; puffins may be in trouble due to depleted herring populations; NOAA cancels furloughs; Maine celebrates the reopening of fishways on the St. Croix; Omega Protein will pay $5.5 million in fines for Clean Water Act violations; the Maine Legislature wants a $3.5 million bond to subsidize groundfish permit purchases; fourteen sea scallop research projects receive $12.5 million in grants.

This Week on TalkingFish.org – May 6-10

May 10, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

May 6 – What should the future of fishing look like? – This week in Washington, D.C., a diverse group of people will try to answer this question. The Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries III conference is the first step towards revising the nation’s law governing fisheries management.

May 10 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, May 10 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, stakeholders discuss Magnuson reauthorization at the Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries conference in DC,NOAA releases its 2013 scallop regulations, alewives are historically and ecologically important to Maine; SMAST develops new yellowtail survey methods; John Bullard defends NOAA’s groundfish regulations; the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announces new fisheries grants; two new sensors in the Gulf of Maine will monitor red tide blooms.

Fishway Opens at Cumberland Mills Dam in Westbrook

May 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Do you recognize these fish?

alewives river herring maine

They are anadromous alewives, also known as river herring. These small fish leave the ocean and swim upriver to spawn each May and June in Maine ponds and lakes. They provide food and cover for other migrating fish and are a critical part of the food chain in the ocean. Because so many Maine rivers are blocked by dams, the number of alewives has dipped dangerously low, so much so that the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering listing them under the Endangered Species Act. Through a series of legal actions, this trend is reversing.

For 150 years, alewives have been unable to swim upstream to spawn in the Presumpcot River. They have been blocked by a series of dams. The first dam in the series, the Cumberland Mills Dam, is at Sappi’s paper mill in Westbrook.

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What’s changed at the Cumberland Mills Dam?

In 2009, in a  proceeding initiated and prosecuted by CLF and the Friends of the Presumpscot River, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife ordered Sappi to construct a fishway through the dam. After two years of construction, the nearly five million dollar fishway is completed and will enable fish to pass above the dam. It opened with fanfare on May 1, 2013 and awaits the spring migration of alewives and shad.

Sappi now has another two years to build a fishway at its next dam upstream, and then as the fish return to their native habitat must construct fish passage at four other dams beyond that. The timing will depend on how many fish migrate up the river. CLF’s Executive Vice President Sean Mahoney, with another attorney for the Friends of the Presumpscot River, spear-headed the petition that has led to the re-opening of the river to alewives and shad.

Sappi plans to create a webpage which will in part track the progress of alewives up the river.  We will share that resource when we have it. Keep checking back here, on CLF Scoop, for more!

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Alewives Now Able to Swim Freely in The St. Croix: Maine’s Economy, Environment, and People to Benefit

Apr 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

alewives river herring maine

Alewives in Maine. Credit: Bremen Conservation Committee

After 18 years, Maine alewives can finally swim freely into their ancestral habitat on the St. Croix River.

On Monday, April 22nd, with little fanfare legislation that essentially repeals a Maine law passed in 1995 that has prevented alewives from using existing fish ladders to surmount the Woodland  and the Grand Falls Dams on the St. Croix. The law comes into force without the usual fanfare because Governor LePage refused to sign it but also couldn’t veto it in light of its overwhelming support in the Legislature.

This victory caps a two-year effort by CLF advocates to restore a fishery that numbered close to 3 million before the 1995 law closed the fish ladder and the number of alewives dwindled to less than 10,000. The alewife, an anadromous fish that lives in the ocean but travels up rivers each spring to spawn, is a “keystone species” that provides food for many animals, birds and larger fish species native to Maine’s marine and fresh waters. In a classic case of fisheries mismanagement, despite its recognized importance, the fate of the alewife was sacrificed upon the altar of bad science and even worse politics.

Last year CLF successfully filed suit against the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act’s water quality standards, resulting in a conclusion by EPA that there was no “…sound scientific rationale for excluding indigenous river herring (or other migratory species) from the St. Croix River.” CLF then used that decision as a basis in a subsequent suit against the State to invalidate the law. We at CLF are pleased that these lawsuits, which received not just the support of the EPA, but also the many organizations across the state of Maine, including the Passamaquoddy Tribe, who have had their shoulder to this wheel for many years, helped to move the legislation to become a law.

“It’s a historic moment,” Rep. Madonna Soctomah, who represents the Passamaquoddy Tribe in support of the legislation, was quoted as saying in the Portland Press Herald. “It’s a really good day for Maine people and the environment.”

That’s a belief that was shared widely amongst Maine’s legislature. The Marine Resources Committee unanimously endorsed the bill, before it went on to pass by a margin of 123-24 in the House and 33-0 in the Senate.

It is truly an historic occasion and one that would not have been possible without the commitment and hard work of a coalition of fishermen, environmentalists, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and many others.

To be sure, there are still challenges to meet to ensure that the St. Croix native fisheries are fully restored to the watershed, including upcoming relicensing proceedings for the Vanceboro and Grand Lake dams further up the St. Croix River. We look forward to continuing to work with on those efforts, and to restoring not just the St. Croix but other rivers in Maine.

For a full archive of CLF’s blog posts and updates on L.D. 72, click here or visit: http://www.clf.org/blog/tag/alewives/

This Week on TalkingFish.org – April 8-12

Apr 12, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

April 10 – 70,000 Citizens, 100 Scientists Want New England’s Waters Protected – More than a hundred prominent scientists are urging federal officials to prevent the return of damaging, bottom trawl fishing to waters that have protected fish habitat and spawning areas in New England for nearly two decades. The scientists aren’t the only ones speaking up. More than 70 thousand people sent comments opposing the proposal.

April 12 – Top Ten Reasons to Protect New England’s Closed Areas – Why should NOAA reject the plan to expand commercial fishing in 5,000 square miles of protected waters? Let us count the ways.

April 12 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, April 12 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, communities react to the start of spring herring runs; Maine’s legislature approves a bill to open fishways on the St. Croix to alewives; other Maine bills would help out large vessels and allow groundfishermen to sell lobster bycatch; the elver fishery continues to draw crime and controversy; New Bedford processors diversify; healthy menhaden stocks support smallmouth bass; the disastrous Gulf of Maine shrimp season ends; debate on closed areas continues.

Important vote will reopen the St. Croix River to Alewives

Apr 10, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The bill passed today will restore alewives, a key forage fish, to the St. Croix River, pictured here. Photo: CanadaGood @ flickr

We at CLF applaud today’s vote by the Maine state legislature to restore Alewives to their native habitat in the St. Croix River.

Today, the legislature voted to pass a bill that will reopen the fish ladder at the Grand Falls Dam, allowing the key forage fish to reach 98% of the St. Croix. This vote caps a two-year effort by CLF advocates to restore a fishery that numbered close to 3 million until a state law closed the fish ladder and the number of alewives dwindled to less than 10,000. Last year CLF successfully filed suit against the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act’s provision related to the state law and then filed suit against the State to invalidate that law.

This bill corrects a practice of fisheries mismanagement that has been allowed to stand for almost two decades. It properly places good science and the interest of many over the self interests of a few. While litigation is the principal tool of our trade, it is wonderful to see the Legislature right this wrong and we hope to be able to dismiss our case against the State soon.

Introduced in March 2013, the bill found strong support among a number of the groups invested and concerned with the restoration of the St. Croix River and its native fish. These groups include Maine fishermen, environmentalists, anglers, federal agencies, and the Passamaquoddy.

The alternative bill proposed by the LePage administration was a half-measure that would have still kept alewives from reaching most of their native habitat.

This vote ensures alewives will now return to the St. Croix River. It is exactly the result that our legal advocacy was aiming for, and we applaud it as an important step forward.

CLF has been blogging on this topic regularly. To read those posts, click here.

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