BAILEYVILLE, Maine (AP) — Alewives are expected to swim upriver of the Grand Falls dam on eastern Maine's St. Croix River this week for the first time in 22 years.
Lawmakers passed a law this spring allowing the fish, also known as river herring, to swim upriver of the dam, overriding an earlier law that closed a fish passage at the Grand Falls dam to alewives. The earlier law was passed at the request of fishing guides who maintained the fish posed a threat to smallmouth bass populations in waters upriver of the dam.
As of Monday, more than 600 alewives had swum past the Woodland dam, about 10 miles downriver from the Grand Falls dam. With the fish passage open once again, the St. Croix — which serves as the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada — in time could have the largest alewife run in the country, according to supporters of the new law.
"Our ancestors would be very proud today. The arrival of alewives at the Grand Falls flowage of the St. Croix River is a historic event for the Passamaquoddy people, and for all of our neighbors in Maine and Canada," said Brian Altvater, head of the Passamaquoddy tribal group, Schoodic Riverkeepers, which has worked to restore alewives to their ancestral spawning grounds.
Opening the St. Croix River watershed to alewives will benefit the Passamaquoddies, Maine's commercial fishing industry, and fish and wildlife throughout the Gulf of Maine, he said.
Alewives were effectively barred from the river for more than 150 years because of dams and pollution. But with cleaner waters and fish passages on the dams, millions of fish returned to the river in the 1980s, with the annual run growing to more than 2.5 million fish.
But legislators in 1995 enacted a law ordering the fish passages at the Grand Falls dam and the downstream Milltown dam to be closed to alewives. The guides maintained that alewives posed a threat to smallmouth bass populations, and by extension to the guides' livelihoods, in lakes and streams in the St. Croix River watershed.
The Milltown dam was reopened to alewives in 2008, but it wasn't until this spring that lawmakers passed a law reopening the Grand Falls dam.
Although the Legislature blockaded the dam in 1995, alewives haven't swum upriver of the dam since 1991, according to Lee Sochasky, who operates the fish passage at the Woodland dam. The alewives were stopped at Grand Falls beginning in 1991 for a research study, she said.