Alewives on their way home

Posted Wednesday, April 17, 2013 in News

Alewives on their way home

photo credit: John Burrows

alewives river

by Andi Parkinson

In 1995, a great error was made by the 117th Legislature which nearly resulted in elimination of Maine’s alewives, as passage up their native St. Croix River was blocked with strategically places flashboards on the dams’ fishways. Grand Lake Stream area guides claimed that alewives were decimating the small mouth bass fry population they depended on for their 12-week season.

Although efforts were launched in 2001 to repeal the earlier law, blockage was maintained that year with a stronger 2008 lobbying campaign that opened only 1% of spawning St Croix habitat to alewives and blue backed herring.

In 1994, the last year the fish had free passage, 2.6 million alewives ascended the St. Croix waterway, perhaps the most fertile in the state. By the next year, fewer than 1,000 were counted (Source: “Alewives on the St. Croix: a ‘mistake’ fixed”).


This year, the 126th Legislature swiftly acted to right what former SAM executive director and veteran writer George Smith labelled “a mistake”. The bill had a contentious hearing on March 25, lasting over three hours, followed by a rapid work session April 1 resulting in the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources unanimously approving LD 72, opening two dams on the lower St. Croix. Co-Chair Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) characterized the work session for the bill thus: “That was the fastest report we’ve dealt with in almost two years.”

As the bill sponsored by freshman Rep. Madonna Soctomah (Passamaquoddy) was an emergency measure, it then required 2/3rds vote in both chambers of the Legislature. It easily passed in the House by a 124-23 margin on Wednesday morning, then flew through the Senate, 33-0, on the same day.

Via Maine House Democrats’ press release:

No word yet as to whether Governor LePage will sign the bill, even with its strong bipartisan support, veto it outright or let it pass into law without his signature. His administration supported LD 548, “An Act To Provide for Passage of River Herring on the St. Croix River in Accordance with an Adaptive Management Plan”.

That bill was voted Ought Not To Pass in committee.

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