St. Croix River Migratory Herring Access

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After years of debate and a series of legal actions, river herring will have access to traditional habitat along the St. Croix River in Maine.

The changes are the result of a new law which requires fishways on the St. Croix River to allow unconstrained passage of river herring.

Following the closings of Woodland and Grand Falls fishways in 1995, St. Croix River river herring populations experienced drastic declines.

In June, Tribal and federal Trustees joined with state and nongovernmental partners and Canadian officials to celebrate the reopening of the Grand Falls Dam fish ladder, which has been closed for more than two decades, limiting river herring to just 2 percent of their historic spawning grounds on the St. Croix River.

With the removal of a wooden obstruction at the dam, herring will now be able to reach more than 50 percent of upstream lake habitat. The St. Croix River, which forms the border between Maine and New Brunswick, has the potential to become one of the largest alewife runs in the United States with benefits to the Passamaquoddy people, Maine’s commercial fishing industry and fish and wildlife throughout the Gulf of Maine.

After access to the Woodland and Grand Falls fish ladders in Maine was closed in 1995 and alewife were denied access to nearly 98 percent of their historic spawning grounds, alewife populations plummeted—from 2.6 million in 1987 to 900 in 2002.

The fish ladders were closed at these two sites because inland sportfishing guides feared the alewives would harm the smallmouth bass populations in the region’s lakes and ponds.

The reopening of the fish ladders gained broad support after research demonstrated that smallmouth bass and alewives can coexist in lakes and waterways throughout Maine and the east coast of North America.

In Maine and elsewhere, native alewife and blueback herring populations have plummeted, due in part to loss of spawning habitat.

River herring were officially designated a “species of concern” in 2006 and are currently undergoing a status review to determine if they should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

River herring are important prey for commercially valuable fish, such as cod and striped bass. A recent report estimated $3.1 to $5.9 million in potential economic benefits from restoring a herring bait fishery on the St. Croix River.

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source: NOAA Fisheries