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Join the St. Croix River Alewife Migration

June 8th, 2012

For immediate release                        
June 8, 2012

PHOTOS: large photo of alewives migrating upstream Credit: John Burrows/Atlantic Salmon Federation
ASF Researcher counting and passing alewives at the Milltown Fish Trap on the St. Croix River: Credit: Tom Moffatt/Atlantic Salmon Federation
Grand Falls Dam, presently closed to alewives in their migration to appropriate habitat on the St. Croix River. Credit: Tom Moffatt/Atlantic Salmon Federation

St. Andrews… On Saturday, June 9, groups and individuals concerned about the future survival of native alewives (gaspereau) on the St. Croix River will symbolically escort this historically and ecologically important fish up the river.  

Native alewives have been prevented from accessing most of their spawning habitat since 1995 when the State of Maine unilaterally blocked their passage at several dam sites. Since that time, the alewife population has plummeted from nearly 3 million adults to a few thousand.  The law was amended in 2008 to unblock the fishway at the Woodland Dam, increasing the alewives range to about two percent of its original habitat in the St. Croix River, but this remains far short of what is required for full restoration.

Vera Francis, with the Schoodic Riverkeepers comments, “The siqonomeqok (alewives), are ecologically important to the Passamaquoddy and essential to the health of our ancestral marine and fresh waters.” The Schoodic Riverkeepers have organized a 100 mile relay along the Schoodic (St. Croix) river for the restoration and the health of the river. The relay run will meet up with the water portion for a rally. Francis further explains, “The Schoodic always had alewives in it, and they fed the Passamaquoddy people. What ever happens to the alewives happens to us. We can relate to its struggle. It’s about to become extinct in its own territorial waters as it comes back to its original spawning area it has no other place to go.”

Geoff Giffin, Director of Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) Programs for NB, expands on the ecological role of the alewife, “Alewives provide much needed nutrients for the ecosystem and food for other fish, birds and mammals in both the freshwater and marine environments.”  Giffin adds, “There is considerable support for this restoration among government agencies and non-government organizations on both sides of the border, except for the State of Maine which clearly remains the single biggest obstacle to restoring what promises to be the largest alewife population restoration on the eastern seaboard.”

Matt Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper, organizer of the water portion of the rally, explains the rationale for the public escort of alewives up the river, “There is widespread support for the restoration of alewives to the St Croix. Alewife Run 2012 is an opportunity to publicly show our support for the restoration of alewives to their river. The science is in; these fish belong in this river. Healthy alewife runs in the St Croix are critical to the health of the river itself, the Bay of Fundy and, indeed, the Gulf of Maine.”

In blocking the river to native alewives, the State of Maine acted out on the unfounded belief that the alewives would endanger the river’s smallmouth bass fishery.  Scientific evidence, however, shows that alewives have no adverse impact on the non-native, but economically important, smallmouth bass and have actually been beneficial to some species by buffering them from predators.  In many river systems, such as the Oromocto in NB, the alewife is a celebrated fish that provides nutrients and forage to numerous bird, mammal and fish species, including smallmouth bass.

In 2012, ASF took over monitoring the Milltown Fishway from the St, Croix Waterway Commission during the alewife migration, which began in early May. To date, 35,914 alewives have been counted at the Fishway, up from 23,687 to this date in 2011, and infinitely better than the low point of 900 in 2002. These numbers, however, are far below the approximately 200,000 alewives that returned to the St. Croix during the 1980s.

Participants will gather at the boat launches in Calais, ME and St. Stephen, NB, beginning at 2 p.m. (EST) and 3 p.m. (AST).  From this location, they will symbolically migrate up the St. Croix River with the alewives.  Other participants will gather on the wharves to show their support. A rally will be held on the waters between Calais and St Stephen.

The Schoodic Riverkeepers is a group of Passamaquoddy Tribal members committed to the restoration of the Schoodic (St Croix River).

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) is dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon and the ecosystems on which their well being and survival depend.

Fundy Baykeeper, the Marine program of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, works to defend the public's right to a healthy Bay of Fundy.



Matthew Abbot, Fundy Baykeeper  506-321-0429
Muriel Ferguson, ASF Communications  506 529-1033 or 506 529-4581
Geoff Giffin, ASF Director of Programs for NB  506 650-8371 (Cell)

If you have any comments on Atlantic salmon issues and coverage, or would like further information, contact:

Sue Scott, V.P. Communications
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