This huge black-highlighted text was at the top of a half-page newspaper headline in my Kennebec Journal on April 18, sponsored by the Grand Lake Stream Guide Association. The ad summarizes the Association’s case against allowing alewives to move from the St. Croix River up and into the Upper St. Croix Lakes.
I’ve been involved in this Battle of the St. Croix for two decades and it’s a fierce one. Initially, in the mid-1990s, when I worked for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I testified in favor of a bill to block alewives from entering the lakes. And we succeeded. At that time, Maine’s Departments of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Marine Resources differed on the issue with DIF&W supporting the blockage and DMR opposing it. Our side won and a barrier was constructed to keep alewives out of the lakes.
In 2012, the issue came back to the legislature in the form of LD 72. This time, with research that shows the alewives will not damage the fisheries in the lakes, DIF&W joined DMR in supporting the removal of the barrier. As an individual (no longer working for SAM) I testified in favor of that, convinced by DIF&W’s fisheries biologists that this was the proper position. And of course, I got hammered by my friends in Grand Lake Stream. But the bill passed, without the support and signature of Governor Paul LePage, and the barrier was removed.
This year, the guides are back, trying to reverse that decision. And I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not going to testify!
The Hearing on LD 800, An Act to Prevent Passage of Alewives through the Grand Falls Dam on the St. Croix River, is scheduled for 1 pm on April 27 before the Marine Resources Committee. A huge crowd is expected, so if you want a seat in the hearing room, better get there early. A second room, where you can sit and listen to the hearing, will be opened for the overflow.
I do not expect any change in the positions of DIF&W and DMR, but we shall see. They have not shared their thoughts or positions on this bill as of yet. I will report on their testimony, along with other testimony at the hearing, after we get through what is certain to be a long afternoon. Today, I want to give you the guides’ position, in their own words.
Dale Tobey, a well-known Grand Lake Stream guide and one of the Association’s leaders, has been sending me information on their position and the bill. Initially I agreed to write an earlier column offering their thoughts on the issue, but Dale asked me to wait because they were working on a compromise with the two state agencies. But that fell apart.
Dale explained it this way (and gave me permission to share this with you). They wanted “us to amend our bill to enact the Adaptive Management Plan and work with IF&W and DMR to pass it . If it did pass it would just kick the can down the road a few years. We have spent way too much money and time proving that Alewives are not native. The state broke laws (Clean Water Act) and (EPA) by passing LD72. The CWA clearly states that anytime any fish is introduced, restored, or let in to any inland waters there will be a complete Environment and Economic impact study done on the complete watershed and abutting communities.” Dale said the guides tried to get their county’s District Attorney to act on this claim, without luck.
Here’s how Dale presents this issue.
In the early 1980’s alewives, by opening the fish ways at Vanceboro, Grand Falls and at the Woodland Dam, were introduced to the upper St. Croix River Basin which included Spednic Lake and others. The fishways were originally constructed in the early 1900’s to try and encourage the introduction of Atlantic Salmon which failed miserably. Around 1980, some salmon were placed in the river to encourage a migration and the fishways were opened as mentioned above. Again, the salmon project failed, but millions of alewives migrated into Spednic and other lakes from the ocean. Within a few years, it was extremely evident that something was drastically wrong with the fishery in Spednic Lake and Big Lake where the majority of alewives lived and spawned during this time period.
Spednic Lake, often called the “wonder lake,” was no longer a premier smallmouth bass fishery as its bass population soon crashed. Landlocked salmon became skinny, in less numbers and the smelt population which is part of the foundation of any fishery was wiped out. State biologists from the IF&W reported that schools of yellow perch and bass fry were no longer present and the only thing that they observed in great numbers were tremendous clouds of alewives cruising along the shorelines devouring the plankton and other small aquatic organisms including small fish. Emergency measures were immediately taken, and Spednic Lake was closed to alewives and the taking of bass in 1988. The devastation to the bass population was so severe, that bass caught in Meddybemps and Baskahegan lakes were trucked in to “seed” or help replenish the stock of breeding bass. Biologists from the IF&W conducted several years of analysis and testing of Spednic Lake. Yearly reports were submitted to the department on their findings, but were tossed aside and forgotten. Unfortunately, in the early 1990’s the funding was cut off and the testing was stopped.
The proponents of alewives blamed the fishery crash on the drastic drawdowns of Spednic Lake. They insisted the spawning habitat was severely damaged, thus reducing the fish populations. Opponents against alewives blamed their heavy consumption of plankton thus decreasing the food supply and starving the young of the year bass. During the past 25 years, the lake has remained closed to the taking of bass and to alewives and Spednic lake continues to recover nicely. Although Spednic has not returned to its former glory, it has shown significant recovery of its fishery. However, it may never fully recover because alewives have remained behind and created a permanent population of “landlocked alewives” which have definitely been proven by numerous studies and reports to be detrimental to the native fish population of lakes. Unfortunately, this is the case with Big Lake, Long Lake, Lewey Lake and the Grand Falls Flowage which were also infected with the illegal introduction. This immense problem is primarily due to the IF&W’s negligence and inadequate action of monitoring these inland fisheries.
With heavy pressure from the Ocean Fishery and other lobbying groups, LD 72 was hastily passed under an emergency order to allow alewives once again into the upper St. Croix Lakes. Proponents submitted incomplete and erroneous reports that were considered “gospel” on the matter to various government officials. Although professional guides, sportsman, lodge owners, businessman and other professionals testified to the previous devastating effects previously on Spednic Lake by alewives, and evidence was brought forth that ancient history, survey plans, and other documentation including records found at the IF&W indicated strongly that alewives were never native to the upper St. Croix River Basin, the bill was still passed. During this time, no records, reports, or recommendations were filed by the IF&W to confront the potential disaster of LD 72 and no research was ever conducted by the department on the ancient history of the river. Most importantly, by allowing alewives to enter this precious inland resource, the State invasive species act was definitely violated which the IF&W is directly responsible to uphold and enforce.
Additionally, it is tragic that the IF&W never conducted necessary plankton count studies and how they are affected by alewives before allowing the passage of LD 72. Since Plankton is the foundation of life in any lake ecosystem, it should have been an absolute demand by the Department that these studies be completed before any consideration of introduction of alewives into any Maine inland waters was allowed. As of today these critical studies still have not been performed. To put it simply, no one has done their homework on this critical subject.
Additionally, the fish way at West Grand Lake is now open, possibly allowing alewives to migrate up into this body of water where the State salmon hatchery is located. If the fishway remains open, this will assuredly destroy the major source of salmon in the state for stocking purposes. It appears negligence may have achieved a new high in our State. Evidently, all responsibility and jurisdiction of the department for protection of the inland waters for this generation and ones to come are being sabotaged by the department itself.
Recently LD 800 has been filed to correct this horrible mistake and reverse the actions of LD 72. Pathetically, nothing is still heard from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Isn’t it their job to issue a statement along with findings before a decision is made on this crucial matter?
Though countless hours of research by nongovernment and state personnel it has been discovered that through preliminary hydraulic river analysis and ancient history, there were several natural barriers that prevented the migration of alewives due to vertical rises and excessive water velocities within the St. Croix River. In fact, when the dams were built, artificial fish ways were constructed, but even in recent years because of the amount of run-off in the Spring, the alewives still cannot climb the artificial fish ladders due to excessive water velocity within them.
Another incredible fact is the recently discovered Spednic Lake Water Level Data from 1969 to present which basically proves the draw downs of the lake had nothing to do with the fishery crash in the 80’s as insisted by the proponents of alewife introduction.
With all the information that has been gathered by outside sources and submitted to the IF&W, it is about time that the Department starts to do its job and protect the inland fisheries and waters of this State.