Somehow, in 1995, a small group with a vested interest in profiting from recreational fishing for the introduced small-mouth bass in the upper lakes sneaked through a bill in the Maine Legislature closing down a fishway on the American on the American side of the river. This effectively reduced the native gaspereau (alewife) population to near extinction and had huge impacts downstream in the river estuary and adjacent bay. Had the Department of Fisheries and Oceans not trucked fish above that dam starting in 2002, they might well be extinct today.
That law was contested year after year with some of the best science showing the seriousness of the closure of the fishway. Intervention by concerned citizens, governments and professionals alike saw the law rescinded and the fishway reopened in 2013. Now, just 2 years later this small group of guides that profit from the bass fishery have succeeded in getting a proposed closure before a house committee once again.
There are 4 issues:
1. Negative impacts on the ecology of the St. Croix River Estuary, Passamaquoddy Bay and beyond,
2. loss of potential local fisheries revenues that could return to the 10 – 20 million dollar level that once existed in the estuary and adjacent bay,
3. The question of sovereignty and just how a state can dictate to events on a shared international river, without the participation of Canada and all concerned parties Including the Passamaquoddy Tribe which has distinctive rights on both sides of the border and
4. A lack of understanding of the ecological dynamics at play and the likelihood that a closure of the gaspereau runs will in fact cause major damage to the existing bass fishery by fostering lake run strains of gaspereau.
I will be providing more information on this shortly. In the meantime, subscribe to bayoffundy.ca if you wish to get updates by email. Art MacKay
Canadian officials urge rejection of Maine gaspereau-blocking bill on the International St. Croix River
Proposed law would block a key fish-ladder used by gaspereau on the U.S. side of the St. Croix River
By Connell Smith, CBC News Posted: Apr 28, 2015 9:00 AM AT Last Updated: Apr 28, 2015 9:00 AM AT
Canadian officials urged members of a Maine legislative committee on Monday to reject a bill that would block the St. Croix River’s annual gaspereau migration.
The St. Croix flows into the Bay of Fundy and is shared between New Brunswick and Maine marking the international border.
The proposed law, Bill LD 800, makes no mention of Canada’s interests. It would simply order the blocking of a key fish-ladder that happens to be on the U.S. side of the river.
Such a move would end the fragile recovery of a gaspereau population that numbered 2.4 million in the 1980s. This year fewer than 30,000 gaspereau migrated up the river to spawn.
But sport fishing guides and lodge owners on the Maine side of the border regard the fish as a menace. They claim it is a threat, mainly to a celebrated local smallmouth bass industry.
They convinced local state representative, Republican Beth Turner, to introduce the bill.
“I don’t represent the government of Canada, I represent the government of Maine,” said Turner when asked by CBC if Canada should be able to say “no” to the plan.
A Canadian fisheries official argued on Monday the bill should not be passed.
“They’re native indigenous species to the river,” said Harvey Millar, Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s area director for southwestern New Brunswick.
“We certainly hope LD 800 does not pass.”
Millar spoke to members of the Marine Resources Committee alongside Frank Ruddock, Canada’s acting Consul General for Boston.
They were among more than 50 speakers to present to the committee.
Many of them are guides who showed up in their green work shirts with badges. Others are environmentalists, scientists and members of the Passamaquoddy tribe.
The Passamaquoddy are native to both sides of the St Croix Valley and ardently support the restoration of the gaspereau migration.
This is not the first attempt by Maine to block the river.
In 1995, the state legislature passed a law intended to eradicate the fish from the St. Croix entirely. It nearly succeeded.
By 2002, the gaspereau population had dropped to just 900 fish. But heavy environmental lobbying, court
challenges and pressure from the Passamaquoddy succeeded in convincing members of the legislature to reopen the fish ladders in 2013.
This latest bill would set back the clock.
“I couldn’t stay in retirement, I couldn’t sit it out,” said former State Senator Dennis Damon, who spoke against the proposed legislation.
Damon said he is glad Canada sent officials to Augusta to defend the country’s rights.
Not enough consideration has been given to Canada’s position on the issue, he said.
The committee could make a decision on the bill as early as Wednesday. It can recommend it as is to the legislature, recommend it with amendments or declare it “ought not to pass.”