SIQONOMEQ: (Spring Fish) Alewife
For thousands of years many anadromous (sea-run) fish have migrated up the St. Croix to spawn in the headwaters of the river. This is a story about the indigenous alewife and how these fish have been blocked from their spawning territory by the state for the past 17 years. It is also about how some influential tribal leaders have been manipulated and influenced to support the blockage. This is a Passamaquoddy perspective on environmental stewardship and history and how political decisions have affected the river and the ecosystem.
The target audience is for tribal members but this message is universal and can be beneficial for all, especially those interested in the St Croix River and the Alewife.
In 1995, the Maine law blocked the state’s St. Croix fishways to alewife migration, at the request of local smallmouth bass guides who felt that alewife was a threat to their sport fishing industry and livelihoods. While studies have since disproved this, repeated attempts to remove the state barriers and restore the indigenous alewife run have had minimal success.
For 18 years the state blocked alewives from 98% of their historic St. Croix spawning habitat. The results of this blockage have been dramatic. A St. Croix alewife run of 2.6 million fish in 1987 collapsed to just 900 fish in 2002 and, with the removal of one state barrier in 2008, recovered to 25,000 fish last year. The St. Croix has the reported potential to support a run of 4.5 million alewife spawners along with an active commercial fishery, a fishery that Passamaquoddy people hold an interest in and an inherent right of access, on both sides of the watershed.
The blockage has negatively affected the unique St Croix ecosystem and many species that depend upon alewives for food, including commercial ground fish, the endangered right whale, the region’s osprey and eagle population etc.
UPDATE: Finally the state has done the right thing. Begining on May 1, 2013 a new law LD-72 requires the Grand Falls fishway to be open for the free passage of alewife. The alewife can now come back home!