Lawmakers Deciding How Quickly To Restore Alewives In St. Croix River
The re-emergence of alewives into the St. Croix river is now in the hands of the legislature.Lawmakers on the Marine Resources Committee are trying to decide the best way to re-introduce alewife spawning runs into the St. Croix River.Alewives are also referred to as river herring, are a small schooling fish that spend the bulk of their life in the oceans, but travel up freshwater rivers in spring to spawn.They’re a food source for all kinds of fish including small mouth bass and cod. Alewives are also utilized by lobstermen who use them as less expensive bait.In 1995, lawmakers ordered the fishways at the Woodland and Grand Falls dams closed to the fish, also called river herring, after fishing guides expressed concerns the alewives were hurting the small mouth bass population.That law closed off 98% of their spawning territory in that area. It’s a policy the Passamoquoddy Tribe’s State Representative Madonna Soctomah calls misguided. “By preventing river herring from reaching their traditional spawning grounds, we have severely damaged the fisheries while also damaging other fish species which depend on them,” Soctomah told the committee while introducing her bill that would immediately re-open the area to alewives. The LePage administration has put forth a more cautious plan that would restore the spawning runs more gradually. Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher admitted the LePage plan doesn’t restore Alewives to the area as fast as a lot of people were hoping, but he calls it a compromise. “Yes, restoration of river herring, alewives in this case, is extremely important to the state of Maine,” Kelliher said. “And it recognizes the value of a very lucrative freshwater recreational fishing within those communities within Washington County.”The cautious approach is designed to make sure no harm comes to the area’s lucrative fishing industry. Some critics say small mouth bass and alewife cannot co-exist in the same waters since they would both be competing for food sources. But Maine Fishing Guides and fly-fishing instructor Macauley Lord says that argument doesn’t hold water since the bass consider alewives a food source. “To a small mouth bass, alewives are food,” Lord said. “I’ve caught loads of big, small mouth and just medium size fish that have an adult alewife tail literally sticking out of their mouth. Their bellies are all bumpy with juvenile alewives. And these fish still eat my flies.” Fisheries biologists say it will take around 10 years to rebuild the spawning run for alewives on the St. Croix River. “The day alewives start to show up in that river the small mouth bass are gonna start to get bigger,” Lord predicts.