February 13, 2013

The alewives argument

The Washington County fight to open up the St. Croix River to millions of alewives has brought together a once-divided tribe, created foes among inland smallmouth bass interests and mobilized advocates on just about every jurisdictional level. Now, a fish's fate – and a county's – hangs on what happens next.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 4)

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Lee Sochasky keeps a count of alewives at the Milltown Dam fishway in the Canadian province of New Brunswick last month. An effort is under way to overturn a 1995 Maine law, a move that could open fishways at other dams on the St. Croix River between Maine and Canada and expand the fish’s reach into a sprawling international watershed. But that effort has its detractors, too.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The plan -- currently spurned by both sides -- would allow the spawning alewives into the middle of the watershed, but prevent them from passing the next set of dams at Vanceboro (on the main river) and Grand Lake Stream (on the western branch). Biologists would carefully monitor the situation, stepping in to close fishways if alewives appeared to cause trouble at certain densities.

"The big question that keeps coming up as far as the (sea-run) alewives is whether they will have a positive or negative impact on inland fish populations," says Gregory Burr, regional biologist with the local office of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Jonesboro. "Truth is, we don't know and there needs to be more studies on that."

The adaptive management plan would do just that, he says, and has a model for protecting smallmouth bass in the main river and Big Lake if problems present themselves. "It really spells everything out."

Whether the plan gets adopted remains to be seen, but legal and legislative action on the issue seems certain.

"The situation will come to an end soon," Chief Cleaves predicts, "and it will come to an end in favor of the alewives."

Staff Writer Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:




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Additional Photos

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Jon Aretakis runs along Route 1 in Perry on June 9 as part of the 100-mile sacred run relay organized by members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe to call attention to a blocked fishway on the St. Croix River preventing alewives from reaching their spawning habitat. The tribe’s three chiefs later declared a “state of emergency,” calling on the state to remove the blockage.

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At the urging of bass anglers and other inland interests in the St. Croix River watershed, Maine lawmakers in 1995 closed the fishway at Grand Falls Dam so that alewives could no longer travel upstream to spawn.

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Lee Sochasky works with alewives at the Milltown Dam fishway in New Brunswick, Canada, last month. The International Joint Commission has put forward an “adaptive management plan” that may offer a compromise in the fight to open up the St. Croix River watershed to the fish.

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Lee Sochasky holds a specimen.

Staff Photographer


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