Alewife Homecoming Celebrated on St. Croix River

June 5, 2013

Federal officials pledge continuing support to help restore one of largest alewife runs in the nation

Baileyville, Maine – Today, Tribal and federal Trustees joined with state and nongovernmental partners and Canadian officials to celebrate the reopening of the Grand Falls Dam fish ladder, which has been closed for more than two decades, limiting river herring to just 2 percent of their historic spawning grounds on the St. Croix River.  

With the removal of a wooden obstruction at the dam, herring will now be able to reach more than 50 percent of upstream lake habitat. The St. Croix River, which forms the border between Maine and New Brunswick, has the potential to become one of the largest alewife runs in the United States with benefits to the Passamaquoddy people, Maine’s commercial fishing industry and fish and wildlife throughout the Gulf of Maine.

After access to the Woodland and Grand Falls fish ladders in Maine was closed in 1995 and alewife were denied access to nearly 98 percent of their historic spawning grounds, alewife populations plummeted—from 2.6 million in 1987 to 900 in 2002.

The fish ladders were closed at these two sites because inland sportfishing guides feared the alewives would harm the smallmouth bass populations in the region's lakes and ponds. The reopening of the fish ladders gained broad support after research demonstrated that smallmouth bass and alewives can coexist in lakes and waterways throughout Maine and the east coast of North America.

A conservative estimate of the economic benefits of reopening the fish ladders on the St. Croix River and rebuilding its alewife run are between $3.1 to $5.9 million.  This would be derived  from just the re-establishment of a herring bait fishery, alone.  Lobstermen would have a lower cost and potentially more ecologically friendly bait source because the bait would be local, reducing the risk of introducing detrimental parasites or pathogens from imported fish.

Re-establishing a healthy alewife run in the St. Croix watershed will benefit freshwater and marine ecosystems alike, and the many organisms that depend on them for food such as groundfish, Atlantic salmon, cod, ospreys, and eagles.  There would also be economic benefits to the region from improved bird watching and recreational fishing opportunities.  The return of alewives is also essential to the endurance of Passamaquoddy culture and tradition, as well as the economy and identity of the region as a whole.

“Alewives are critically important to several life stages of Atlantic salmon and we know that any river in North America that has lost its alewife run has also lost its Atlantic salmon run.  After 12 years of work by our Maine and New Brunswick Council staff and volunteers, along with many other groups, we are looking forward to watching the resurgence of the native St. Croix alewife run,” said Andy Goode, Vice President, U.S. Programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The St. Croix River Herring Homecoming is a commemorative event hosted by the Passamaquoddy Tribe to mark the return of alewives to their traditional spawning habitat in the St. Croix River and to honor all of the tribes, federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations who have participated in the effort to make this restoration a reality.   

During the celebration, guests were treated to Tribal ceremonial songs and dance, including the Passamaquoddy Welcome and Alewife songs and the “Round Dance.”  U.S. and Canadian officials also made brief remarks.  The event wrapped up with Tribal and federal government officials signing of a pledge to continue to work together to bring back river-run fish to this important Maine watershed.


Quotes from Partners

“Alewives are critically important to several life stages of Atlantic salmon and we know that any river in North America that has lost its alewife run has also lost its Atlantic salmon run.  After 12 years of work by our Maine and New Brunswick Council staff and volunteers, along with many other groups, we are looking forward to watching the resurgence of the native St. Croix alewife run.”  
--Vice President, U.S. Programs, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Andrew Goode

“Native alewife and blueback herring are in serious peril in Maine and elsewhere—in large part because of reduced fish access to habitat.  So much so, in fact, that they were officially designated a “species of concern” in 2006 and are now undergoing a status review to determine if listing under the Endangered Species Act is warranted. We remain committed to continuing to work with Trustees and other partners to expand access to habitat for river-run fish in the St. Croix watershed.”  
-- NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Administrator, John Bullard

"Today we celebrate the strong partnerships and years of work that made this the day possible.  As many streams come together to create mighty rivers, we have come together from many directions, with many voices, to acknowledge the importance of this river and the life it sustains. We thank the Schoodic Riverkeepers, and the many advocates and scientists whose efforts made today possible."
--Maine Rivers Executive Director, Landis Hudson

“Alewives are vital to the food webs and nutrient cycles of marine and freshwater habitats throughout Maine. As forage, alewives can help support coastal and inland fisheries and as a readily available source of bait they can help offset an increasingly limited bait supply for Maine’s lobster industry in the spring months. We are glad to be asked to participate in this event to recognize the value of this important species to Maine’s marine ecology and economy”
-- Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher

 “The return of alewives to the St. Croix River offers new hope for the health of the Gulf of Maine and its fisheries. The St. Croix may now become the nation’s largest alewife run. NRCM has been working with others to reopen this river to its native fish since 2001, to make this ecosystem whole again. As the alewife population rebounds, it will help rebuild Maine’s groundfish populations and supply bait for Maine’s lobster industry, which is now importing expensive bait from away.”
-- Executive Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), Lisa Pohlmann

“EPA was able to support the continued effort to restore the St. Croix River through our outreach and consultation with the Passamaquoddy Tribes and our work to review Water Quality Standards.    We look forward to continuing to work with our federal, state and Tribal partners in protecting and restoring waterways in New England. “
-- Regional Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency Region 1, Curt Spalding

“St. Croix River restoration to benefit migratory fish has been a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for many decades,” said Service Northeast Regional Director, Wendi Weber.  “This watershed has the highest potential for alewife production of any in Maine, providing ecological and economic benefits, as well as significant cultural benefits for the Passamaquoddy People.    Today marks a great milestone in our efforts. we look forward to many more years of collaboration in the watershed.”
-- Northeast Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wendi Weber

"This day is truly an historic occasion and one that would not have been possible without the commitment and hard work of a coalition of fishermen, environmentalists, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and many others. The law that CLF and others fought so hard to enact corrects a practice of fisheries mismanagement that has been allowed to stand for almost two decades. To be sure, there are still challenges to meet to ensure that the St. Croix native fisheries are fully restored to the watershed, but today we are proud of our shared victory and welcome these fish back to their native spawning grounds."  PLACE HOLDER
--Executive Vice-President and Director for Conservation Law Foundation/Maine, Sean Mahoney