CLF sues state over alewives spawning passage

Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in News

CLF sues state over alewives spawning passage

Credit: John Burrows

The Conservation Law Foundation has once more sued the state of Maine over the future of alewives, also known as river herring, in the St. Croix River, which forms the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday, Oct. 15. There has been legal wrangling over the alewives' issue since early spring, when several groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and the Passamaquoddy Tribe sued the state over its failure to adhere to Environmental Protection Agency rules that say that the passage must be open to alewives during their spring spawning season. Closing the fishway at the Grand Falls dam in Woodland also violates part of the Clean Water Act.
However, in open defiance, after consultation with Gov. Paul LePage, Attorney General William Schneider said that the EPA directive was irrelevant because the purpose of the state law was to manage fish, not water quality in the St. Croix River.

None of the parties has spoken publicly since then, but the Conservation Law Foundation said that it hopes its lawsuit will resolve the question in favor of the fish. When federal law and state law are in conflict, federal law trumps state law.

The Attorney General's Office had no comment on the development Monday.

The lawsuit names two administration officials, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, as defendants.

The court will likely rule in the coming months; in the meantime, alewives begin their run in April.

Maine's 1995 and 2007 alewives laws were passed at the behest of smallmouth-bass fishing guides, who fear that spawning alewives would harm bass populations, and were opposed by fishermen, lobstermen, environmentalists, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Canadian government, and others who say that the native species can serve as bait for fishermen and are prey for many wild species of fish, both in the river and in the ocean.

The spawning population fell from 2.6 million to under a thousand after the passage of the 1995 law.

If the court sides with the Conservation Law Foundation, it will compel the state to allow the alewives unimpeded access past the Grand Falls dam.

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