Christopher Smith

Alewives Impact On Maine Smallmouth Bass

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In the constant debate over resource management and natural selection, the EPA has demanded that the state of Maine must allow alewives into the St. Croix watershed. There is concern over the alewives impact on Maine smallmouth bass.

In a July letter to Maine Attorney General William Schneider, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that the state’s efforts to block alewife access to the St. Croix River violate the Clean Water Act. The letter states that blocking the fish at dams on the St. Croix constitutes an unauthorized change to the river’s water quality, and that the state must remove manmade impediments that block alewives from reaching the Gulf of Maine. The EPA letter also refutes the argument among opponents of alewife restoration on the St. Croix that the fish are an introduced species.

Alewives impact on Maine smallmouth bass

Washington County guides have long lobbied to restrict alewife access because they believe the fish were responsible for decimating smallmouth bass, a popular sports-fishing species, in the St. Croix watershed. Subsequent studies say other environmental factors most likely caused smallmouth bass numbers to decline, but the guides remain adamant.

“If they let the ocean alewives come in…you’re land is not going to be worth four dollars an acre,” said Lance Wheaton, owner of the Village Camps in Forest City Township…

Nearby the St. Croix, the East Machias River supports a thriving alewife run that supports a robust harvest in the town of East Machias, said Dwayne Shaw, Executive Director for the Downeast Salmon Federation. Alewives’ presence in that watershed hasn’t hurt other fish populations in the river, either.

“It’s one of the best bass fisheries in the state, both large-mouth and small-mouth,” said Shaw. Source

Native Tribal leaders’ perspective

“The Schoodic Riverkeepers has a bigger purpose and that is river restoration and that would normally mean dam removal, but our purpose right now is to restore the alewife to its natural and historic grounds,” said Vera Francis, one of the organizers of the run.

But it’s more than just the alewives, said Brian Altvater, a founding member of the Schoodic Riverkeepers and organizer for the sacred run.

“We’re talking about blue back herring, shad, Atlantic salmon, American eel—any fish that goes between the fresh and salt water,” he said, explaining that the alewives are central to the entire ecology of the environment. “Everything co-exists with the alewives—the birds, the eagle, the osprey, the whale, the porpoise. We bring the alewives home to feed our community members and its part of our tradition for centuries. The man-made blockades ought to be removed.”

“We do have a sustenance right to our traditional food. We’re not a stakeholder—we’re not anglers, not guides. We’re indigenous, just like the fish we’re talking about,” Francis said.

“What we do to the alewives, we do to the tribe, we do to ourselves,” Altvater said.

“No option should be off the table, including going to the dam and physically removing the barrier in defiance of the state,” Bassett said. “I think that’s a bold statement but I think that action is an option. It’s a two-foot-long piece of wood. Source

Smallmouth bass often have a win-win relationship with other fish species in any body of water. In many rivers and lakes there are concerns over fish species that may compete with or eat smallmouth bass.

Lake Erie gobies have created an explosion in the size of the smallmouth bass…maybe this would happen in Maine as well. What do you think the impact of alewives on Maine smallmouth bass will be?

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One Response to Alewives Impact On Maine Smallmouth Bass

  1. Alan Yuodsnukis August 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    This supposed “controversy” really shouldn’t be one at all. Alewives have only been blocked on the St. Croix since the mid 90’s. I have been bass fishing that drainage since 1980, and my father for two decades before that. Prior to the closure of the fishway blocking the upstream migration of the alewives, the smallmouth fishing was outstanding in lakes and rivers throughout the drainage. I distinctly remember watching thousands of alewives pouring into Pocomoonshine Lake through a home-made fish ladder in the mid 80’s – and then catching dozens of bass on the lake. Certainly, based on my own experience, alewives did no harm – quite the opposite. In fact, there is no scientific evidence to support claims that they will hurt the smallmouth fishery, either. You can read an excellent expose on this very issue published by the Portland Press Herald earlier this summer and Ted Williams, conservation editor of Fly Rod and Reel magazine also wrote a detailed piece about it several months ago. Alewives currently have access to dozens of other drainages throughout the state where there is also excellent smallmouth fishing. My favorite central Maine river consistently produces smallies in the 18 to 22 inch range, but also hosts a very large run of alewives. Stripers follow the adults upriver in the spring, providing fine sport, and then in the fall, as the young of the year alewives flush back out to the ocean, the smallmouths (and stripers) gorge on the juveniles. As an avid smallmouth chaser, I’ll take a river that supports a healthy run of anadromous baithfish over one that doesn’t every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

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