The article by Melissa Waterman in The Free Press has a great history of how this issue evolved with Mainers – herring v small mouth bass. Here is an excerpt on where the issue stands today – adaptive management for alewives and small mouth bass. A great example of mistakes and progress made – maybe Congress could learn something from this story.
U.S. EPA ruled that blocking alewives from the river violated the federal Clean WaterAct. The agency ordered Maine‘s attorney general to take appropriate action “to authorize passage of river herring [alewives and blueback herring] to portions of the St. Croix River above Grand Falls Dam.” Then-Attorney General William Schneider told the EPA that alewife controls were a fishery management issue, not a Clean Water Act issue, thus the EPA’s ruling was irrelevent.
Enter the Passamaquoddy Indian tribes. In 2012, the chiefs of the Maliseet, Micmac, and Penobscot tribes in Maine and New Brunswick sent a letter to the IJC calling for the immediate opening of the river to the migratory fish. In Febuary 2013, Representative Madonna Soctomah introduced L.D. 72, an emergency bill that would open the Grand Falls Dam fishway by May 1. A counter-bill, L.D. 584, proposed by the LePage administration, would follow the precepts of the IJC’s “adaptive management plan,” opening the river gradually over time, with monitoring of any ecological impacts.
So what’s the fuss all about? Alewives are a good source of bait for lobster traps, but they are only available for a short time in the spring. And the Conservation Law Foundation is not known for bringing suits on behalf of lobster bait. No, alewives have a more profound significance to the Gulf of Maine. Alewives are a primary source of food for salmon, codfish and even the smallmouth bass so favored by fishing guides. Ted Ames, co-founder of the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington, has argued for several years that restoring the populations of prey fish such as alewives and blueback herring will do much to restore the groundfish populations that once were found along the coast of Maine.
The alewives also act as a conduit from the land to the sea. As they move out into the Gulf of Maine, they transport in their flesh nutrients and minerals gained in the rivers into the ocean, a living representation of an indelible link between the two realms. Providing the alewives of the St. Croix River with access to their spawning grounds appears to make a lot of sense, both from the perspective of the fish and from ours.