Apr 11, 2013

Alewife Liberation! Maine legislature passes bill reopening the St. Croix to river herring.

Thanks to the determined efforts of Doug Watts, Kathleen McGee ,Ed Friedman, the Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, the Passamaquoddy Nation and many more more fish lovers,  the Maine legislature has finally been convinced to pass a bill ordering the removal of a single wooden board that for nearly two decades has blocked the migration of River Herring into the Saint Croix River.

Open the up, please
 Once again a magnificent river of living protein will pour in and out of our northern border river, feeding untold multitudes of birds, bears and other wildlife - and other fishes -while doing so (not to mention human exploitation as food and bait.)

Listen to March 25, 2013 testimony on the bill byEd Friedman  and by Kathleen McGee

Listen to the April 1, 2013 work session where the legislature's Marine Resources committee approved reopening the Great Falls dam to river herring 

Ed Friedman of Friends of Merrymeeting Bay explains all in the following press alert:

"After two earlier passes each in Maine House and Senate, the bill calling for unlimited river herring access on the St. Croix River was enacted yesterday in both bodies with 84% in favor in the House and 91% in favor in the Senate. My guess is the governor will ignore it allowing automatic passage in ten days. Being emergency legislation, a 2/3 vote was needed for enactment.

It was the lawsuit against Maine brought by Doug Watts, Kathleen McGee and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay that initiated the renewed effort leading to this outcome. The suit stayed further action by the International Joint Commission which was headed without much objection towards an adaptive management strategy whereby only a limited number of river herring would be given access and their future determined by the response from non-native small mouth bass.

We love Alewives!
While the federal court ultimately dismissed our case, they provided us a road map for subsequent action in stating all administrative remedies had not been exhausted and suggesting we go to the EPA [it was always a toss-up who to target and we opted for Maine as the actual violator and with a suit against the state providing the cleaner legal path forward]. 

It was our first Notice of Intent [NOI] to sue the EPA that triggered the agency letter to Maine advising the state they were in violation of water quality statutes. About this time, the Conservation Law Foundation filed a suit against Maine similar to our original in federal court. Our attorneys did not feel this was “ripe” because there still existed additional administrative remedies to exhaust [the promulgation by EPA of revised water quality statutes]. To this end our attorneys drafted another NOI and we were ready to file a complaint against the agency for failure in their non-discretionary duty to act on drafting water quality statute revisions. If no action was taken by the EPA, this would finally ripen our case for a return to court bringing a federal preemption claim under the Clean Water Act.

Concurrently, in December we asked Representative Bruce MacDonald to sponsor legislation for us that would reopen the Grand Falls fishway. It was not emergency legislation but had an opening date of May 1, 2013 which would have been too soon if passed normally. Because of the conflict in my drafting, Bruce had it changed to emergency legislation and when session opened there was our bill and a virtually identical bill submitted by Rep. Madonna Soctomah at the request of the Passamaquoddy Tribal Council [PTC]. It was two of ours against the Governor’s adaptive management bill which even the DMR Commissioner admitted had no science to support it. In a “friendly folding” we had no problem with the Marine Resources Committee voting against ours in favor of the Passamoquddy’s and bringing only one bill forward. This is what passed through the legislature so well.

Paul Bisulca of the Schoodic River Keepers and formerly of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission deserves a lot of credit for soliciting new support letters from USFWS, NMFS, EPA [still pressured by our new NOI letter and imminent filing of our lawsuit], PTC for bringing their bill forward and Rep. Soctomah, Jeffrey Pierce of the Alewife Harvesters of Maine, Beth Ahearn and several other folks lobbying for main stream environmental groups deserve kudos for lobbying legislators and pushing the bill through the legislature in a timely fashion. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association and Downeast Lobstermen’s Association also supported the effort. Forty-five people testified for the open access bills and all deserve thanks.

Assuming the bill goes into effect one way or the other, this year’s alewives and blueback herring will be the first to gain access above the fishway since 1995.

Staring out nearly three years ago, our attorneys were Roger Fleming and Erica Fuller of Earthjustice and Dave Nicholas a sole practitioner with whom we have long worked on other fish passage issues. After the dismissal, Erica and Roger continued helping us while Dave focused on our increasingly intense and ongoing ESA suit for illegal take of Atlantic salmon by owners of the seven lower dams on the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers. Special thanks to all three of these practitioners!

Thanks to all!


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