Evolution of Alewive Legislation on the St. Croix
The Alsoa pseudoharengus, commonly know as the alewife is an important species to Maine's rivers. (Reader should take note that the blueblack herring is often associated with the alewife both in legislation and conservation practices, though it is not directly address in this paper). Feeding on zooplankton, small crustaceans, insect larvae, and some small fish, alewives are adaptive animals suited for most environments. Though native the majority of Maine, some alewives have spread as far as the Great Lakes and South Carolina. Being a keystone species it has both an ecological and economical impact.
Ecologically, alewives created a solid foundation to support larger prey such as striped bass, northern pike, bald eagles, and a variety of other species. Alewives are a healthier prey item for fish-eating birds than resident freshwater fish because they have not accrued toxins as ready in their bodies, decreasing bioaccumulation. Just as important spawning alewives create excess nutrients to freshwater ecosystems. This material comes in the form of eggs, sperm, excreted matter, and decaying bodies. Each female produces 60,000 to 467,000 eggs annually occurring over their seven to eight year lifetime. Concordantly, in some bodies of water up to 75 percent of the alewife population will die before returning to sea. The abundant nutrients "protein packets" the bodies of water allowing subsequent life to survive. Particular interest is placed on the freshwater mussel know as the alewife floater (Anodonta implicata). Female mussels release larvae into the water, where they must find a suitable host fish and attach to its fins or gills. The alewife is the only know carrier of the larvae. Economically, alewives are used for pet food, fertilizer, and lobster bait. Between 1950 and the late 1970s, 34,500 metric tons of alewives were harvested from the St. Croix annually. The most important of commercial use of alewife for Maine is production of lobster bait. "Across the state, dozens of Maine municipalities have commercial harvesting rights to alewives on approximately 40 coastal streams and rivers. Thus, alewives provide significant revenues to the towns that lease the fishing privileges to fishermen (Bennett)".
Tragically, alewives have been threaded by human encroachment causing significant decreases in populations. The St. Croix River, located in Northeastern Maine, is at the forefront of alewife concern. Historically alewives exceeded populations of 2.5 million on the river, while the St. Croix watershed might have supported over 35 million spawning alewives. "After closure of the Vanceboro dam in 1987, the Grand Falls Dam in 1991 and the Woodland Dam in 1995, nearly the entire watershed was inaccessible to these fish, and in 2002 only 900 river herring returned from the sea to spawn (Nedeau)." On the St. Croix River a recorded low was reached in 2004 with a total of 1299 fish. Not only the physical barriers of these damns were detrimental to alewife populations, but legislation was taken to actively obstruct passage.
This closure came at the request of a handful of fishing guides who believed that alewives caused the collapse of Spednic Lake's small-mouth bass populations in the 1980's. Without extensive research, fishermen believe large portions of alewives diets consisted of fish and fish larvae, thus endangering bass populations. Powerful lobbyist were able to pass Title 12-§6134 which stated: "By May 1, 1995, the commissioner and the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shall ensure that fish ways on the Woodland Dam and the Grand Falls Dam, both located on the St. Croix River, are configured or operated in a manner that prevents the passage of alewives (Alewives Passage)." Though no specific techniques could be found the bill's implications were extremely effective for alewife populations droped significantly from 1980's to present.
For the subsequent thirteen years alewife populations remain significantly low, reaching the point where they were placed on NOAA's Species of Concern list. Recently, studies have found evidence to overturn assumptions regarding alewife habits. Maine Rivers' Two Reports on Alewives in the St. Croix River, which incorporates T.W. Willis study on small mouthed bass and alewife interactions, lead to the conclusion that with beyond a doubt sea-run alewives pose no threat to small mouth bass in the St. Croix. With said information activist, such as Nick Bennett, have developed the Act to Restore Diadromous Fish in the St. Croix River (LD 1957). This piece of legislator will force Woodland Dam and Grand Falls Dam to aid in the passage of alewives up stream. However, stanch fishermen are still apposed to LD 1957 fearing determent to not only bass population but also to salmon and smelt as well. Similar to previous attempts to open the St. Croix, 1977 repeal. On March 18, 2008 the Maine government reached a tentative agreement to allow alewives in the St. Croix River up to the Grand Falls dam this year. This will be the first time since 1995 that alewives have been above Woodland dam. Opposition was still held among Passamaquoddy guides who believe the alewives prey on key fish species. Though the tribe was officially left out of the vote it is believe their background disapproval held power in the decision-making. Supporters of the bill were hoping for the river to be completely open for the passage of alewives. However, the Department of Marine Resources and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife must prove that alewives do not threaten bass populations before the herrings will be allowed above Grand Falls Dam.
Click here to view Canada's involvement with alewife restoration