Alewifes and the St. Croix: An Adaptive Management Plan


From June 15 to September 17, 2010, the International St. Croix River Watershed Board (Board) accepted public comments on a draft plan to restore the sea-run (anadromous) alewife, a native fish species, to the St. Croix River basin. The plan was drafted at the Board’s request by fisheries experts from the binational St. Croix Fisheries Steering Committee, an informal grouping of State, Provincial and Federal fisheries management agencies from both sides of the border. The plan proposed to reopen the river to the alewife while maintaining the basin’s economically important smallmouth bass fishery at current or higher levels. Because the alewife must swim upstream to spawn, they are vital to the food webs and nutrient cycles of marine, freshwater and land habitats in the basin. As bait, they help support coastal fisheries and lobstering. Fossil evidence shows alewives were present in the basin from prehistoric times. In addition to accepting written comments, the Board convened its annual public meeting on August 4, 2010 in Princeton, Maine. Due to the level of interest, the draft alewife restoration plan was the sole topic of the meeting. In lieu of responding individually to the more than 100 written comments received and the additional comments made at the public meeting, the Board has updated its Frequently Asked Questions to reflect its responses, and those of the plan drafters, to the most frequent comments on the draft plan. The draft plan and supporting materials (including the original and the updated FAQ) and the written comments on the draft plan, will remain available on the Board’s Publications page on the IJC website. 

The IJC continues to consider the AMP a compromise option that could lead to the opening of fishways on the St. Croix River to alewives. In our view, the local participatory approach, building support for the unblocking of the river and ultimately for a change in the Maine state legislation, offers the best hope for a durable, clear-cut solution to this issue. The consensus-building option remains our first choice and we look forward to ongoing discussions.