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NOAA Supports Unfettered Access for River Herring in the St. Croix River

In March, NOAA reaffirmed its support for unfettered access for river herring on the river before the Maine legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources. Last week, the legislation to open fish passage on the St. Croix River for river herring became law.

Since access to the Woodland and Grand Falls fishways in Maine was closed in 1995, alewife populations have plummeted—from 2.6 million in 1987 to 900 in 2002. Alewives were denied access to 98 percent of their traditional spawning grounds on the St. Croix River. As a result, native alewife and blueback herring are in serious peril in Maine and elsewhere—in large part because of reduced fish access to habitat.  So much so, in fact, that they were officially designated a “species of concern” in 2006. They are now undergoing a status review to determine if they should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The new law requires that fishways on the St. Croix River would be configured to allow unconstrained passage of river herring. River herring are important prey for commercially valuable fish, such as cod and striped bass. Given the current status of those fisheries, increasing prey populations in the Gulf of Maine is a priority goal for NOAA. Fully restoring alewife runs throughout the St. Croix watershed, which has the potential to be the largest run in the Gulf of Maine, would be a substantial step toward that goal.

A recent report has also estimated $3.1 to $5.9 million in potential economic benefits from restoring a herring bait fishery on the St. Croix River. For more on the economic benefits of habitat restoration, visit the Restoration Jobs Portal.

Posted May 13, 2013

Underwater school of herring in the St. Croix River. Credit: Ben Gahagan, CTDEEP.