An important step forward for restoring alewives to the St. Croix river
Fishermen, environmentalists, anglers, representatives from the Passamaquoddy tribal government, federal agencies and the Canadian government have spoken: Alewives should be allowed to return to their native St. Croix river.
At a legislative hearing Monday, speaker after speaker rose in support of a bill, L.D. 72, that would immediately open many fishways at the river’s dams to Alewives.
Our own Sean Mahoney, EVP & Director, CLF ME, testified in support of the bill, arguing, “L.D. 72 is simple, it does the right thing and its benefits – to the watershed, the ecosystem and the many whose livelihoods would be enhanced by a return of the alewives – would be relatively immediate.”
The legislature is currently considering three bills, and Mahoney was joined by the vast majority in supporting L.D. 72, an emergency bill sponsored by Passamaquoddy tribal Rep. Madonnah Soctomah, that would require the Grand Falls Dam fishway to be opened to the “unconstrained passage” of Alewives by May 1st, before the species’ spring spawning season.
The opening would give the fish immediate access to over 24,000 acres of habitat, compared to a sparse 1,174 open today. In all likelihood, this opening would lead to Canada’s opening the fishway upstream at the Vanceboro dam, allowing access to thousands of additional acres. One researcher estimated that if spawning runs had access to the entire watershed, alewives could number more than 20 million, up from just over 31,000 now.
The alternative Adaptive Management Plan, L.D. 584, calls for a more gradual, staged reintroduction of spawning Alewives to the river. Proposed by Governor Page’s administration, this plan met overwhelming opposition at Monday’s hearing, and was even condemned by one of its own co-authors. It falls far short of restoring alewives throughout the watershed. It also would run afoul of federal law concerning the operating of dams such as the Vanceboro Dam, as well as the State’s own water quality standards, as noted by Sean in his testimony.
The LePage administration, along with fishing guides from Washington county, were alone in their concerns that reintroduction of Alewives may lead to a decline in smallmouth bass. The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asserted that smallmouth bass, which were introduced into the St. Croix in 1877, have lived harmoniously with spawning Alewives in hundreds of Maine’s lakes and rivers. Mahoney’s testimony, which you can read here, provides the legal arguments against L.D. 584.