Fundy Baykeeper celebrates the restoration of gaspereau to their native spawning grounds in the St. Croix River

April 23, 2013, St Andrews, NB: This spring gaspereau, a river herring species also called alewives, will finally be allowed up the fish ladder at the Grand Falls Dam on the St. Croix River, 18 years after being blocked from over 95% of their historic spawning habitat. Yesterday Maine Governor Paul LePage announced he will not veto bill LD 72, An Act To Open the St. Croix River to River Herring proposed by Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative Madonna Soctomah. The bill received strong support from both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“For two decades too long Maine has been placing a barrier in the Grand Falls fishway; this spring gaspereau will once again ascend to their ancestral spawning grounds in the St. Croix,” said Matthew Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. “This international river, forming the border between Maine and New Brunswick, has the potential to host the largest run of gaspereau in the Gulf of Maine system and beyond. Gaspereau have sustained the Passamaquoddy People and more recent visitors to this region for thousands of years. If we take care of the fish they will sustain us once again.”

Gaspereau swim great distances to spawn in the rivers where they were born, but for much of the past 150 years they have faced a variety of different barriers in the St. Croix River. In the 1820’s gaspereau ascending the St. Croix ran up against dams built without fishways. By the 1870’s fishways were built, but pollution had created such a degraded environment that gaspereau numbers remained low. It was not until 1981 that a mix of factors, including improved fish passage and sufficiently restored spawning habitat, allowed the gaspereau run to come back. And come back they did! By 1987 the St. Croix was seeing runs of over 2.5 million fish. Under pressure from smallmouth bass fishing guides who believed that gaspereau were harming smallmouth bass (an introduced species), the State of Maine closed over 98% of available spawning habitat in the St. Croix to gaspereau. Research in the St. Croix and elsewhere demonstrates that gaspereau do not harm smallmouth bass, and indeed are eaten by smallmouth bass.

Gaspereau are described as a keystone species because of the critical role they play in both freshwater and marine ecosystems. Travelling in large schools, these highly nutritious fish serve as feed stock for groundfish, such as cod, many open ocean fish species, marine mammals, including porpoise, seals, and whales, and fish-eating birds. Gaspereau are also a preferred source of food for freshwater fish, land mammals, and birds such as eagles.

“It is easy to get excited about gaspereau,” commented Abbott. “The positive ecosystem level impact of healthy gaspereau populations is hard to overstate. Put simply, just about everything else eats this little fish. The St. Croix River, the Bay of Fundy, and the Gulf of Maine are much better off because of the restoration of this gaspereau run.”

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For more information contact:
Matthew Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper 506-529-8838, (cell) 506-321-0429, marine@conservationcouncil.ca