Do We Want Alewives in St. Croix River?
By Art Wheaton

Sporting camps and guides Downeast recently got a thorough railroading on the question: Do we want alewives in the St. Croix River?!

That’s the way it played out in the wonderful 100-year-old Train Station in McAdam, N.B. on Thursday night the 17th of June, 2009. The gathering was hosted by the most courteous International Joint Commission, which uttered consensus building, and mom and apple pie to a staged and stacked deck of “Let Alewives- run- free- in- the- St. Croix” proponents. This game might just as well have been played between the East Grand School basketball team and the Boston Celtics.

This well planned, lopsided contest, was held when most guides were working at their livelihood, supporting families and unable to get away. Maine Fish and Wildlife did not send any of the real biologists who kept book and data. Were they kept away for fear of their jobs if they voiced the truth over this pending disaster?

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Two Forest City guides duked it out with a well orchestrated cast of alewives proponents. Supposed scientific evidence from 4000 years ago, backed up with one miniscule tooth of the Mighty Alewife found in a dig, maybe a ˝ mile from the then river was served up. Of course no Native Americans who once lived on the river system then could make the meeting. Then, of course, there is the huge evidence of river herring used to feed the masses found in a book. Convenient interpolation suggests those must have been swimming above Grand Falls… a wonderful leap of faith. Yep, that’s all they had for conclusive evidence to take down the “Forest City Two”.

This shootout was played from a hymn book. We need ‘em in the Bay of Fundy, cried out some, because our non-regulated overfishing has left us without alewives! Then the Atlantic salmon folks, god bless their nobility, (I love the lordly salmon too) should be allowed to run this river, “cause that’s what we do!" Yep, we want' em because we love ‘em and they deserve this highway, just because of our conservation mission. There was not an utterance of the money pit on the Penobscot and other downeast rivers to restock Atlantics. Nobody raised the question of what might be a proposed economic benefit but one might conclude it would only be a pimple to offset the pending economic disaster for the sport fishery of the East and West Branches of the St Croix, where sporting lodges, guides, fisherman and the multiplier effect helps to keep the last vestiges of employment in Washington County, Maine, alive. After all, we can surely add to the already bulging welfare rolls in the poorest county in Maine after 300 layoffs at the Woodland Mill and suffer more from the already besieged tourist industry, crippled from the economic downturn. In this area the woods industry, in the last gasps of decline from a high of 150 years ago when Maine was the lumber capital of the world. Good thinking!

The Forest City guides went right to their big man for a three pointer recalling that Spednik Lake was a dead zone in the 1980s when the great scientists and politicians turned the alewives loose the first time and those poor little fishes ate all the zooplankton and bass fry to turn the lake into sterile water. No telling how big a disaster the “alewife prison release program” will do to our Landlocked Salmon, White Perch, Yellow Perch and what’s left of our smelt. It's taken years to recover, once they shut off the hoards of invaders to let the “trash fish”, smallmouth bass grow to trophy size (20-25 yrs) again. The haddock, pollack and lobstah folks leaped to their feet and pontificated on how it's time to turn the alewives loose cause we need ‘em badly as a blood transfusion for our overfished salt water fishery, and it’s way more important than the bass and landlocked salmon. Another voice who doesn’t have a clue as to the artistry of fly fishermen, his popping bugs, and his gentle release of prized smallmouth, the great heavyweight fighter, pound for pound, of freshwater. Yep, you got lots of ‘em in downeast Machias lakes, lots of 5 pounders, and they love alewives…bonafide evidence that the marriage was made in heaven. Sportsmen are coming from as far away as Alabama to sample our great Spednik fishery, isn’t that validation of its importance as a sport fishery?

And then, like jumping beans the hue and cry for “bring em in” came one expert after another. However, not one could remember or choose to want to find out why and how “the day Spednik Lake died”, right after the alewife invasion. Well go ahead and ask, Andy, Dale, Lance, Pete, Bud, Mark, Woodie Wheaton, the Bass Clubs and Maine biologists Mike Smith and Nils Kramer, and others who did much of the work catching and releasing the fish to restock Spednik.Nobody else gave a damn!

Yep, the guides were left swinging in the wind.

This game was scored, signed, sealed and delivered to the history books before the trap door was even sprung.

The “unorganized township” gang is in the sticks and we can smother them, no votes there. Nobody cares to understand that, for a 100 years plus, its been the smallmouth bass and the landlocked salmon that has brought thousands from away to this little corner of the world where green “Grand Laker” canoes reign supreme, where downeast guides who, with their own money and gas, donated time without income to transport smallmouth bass from Baskahegan and Meddybemps Lakes to let this “Crown Jewel” Spednik Lake, live again!!

When the alewives come and bring whatever diseases and unplanned, unscientific results on our white perch, and we see the last of our smelt and the sickness of our landlockeds and decimate our smallmouth again, somebody will never say, except maybe behind closed doors, we shouldn’t have done it! What they will not tell you is that this is all about politics and money. The votes are what counts, folks, and to hell with the poor folks. We’ll just give one giant ocean fishery on life support now, another blood transfusion, and sink our fresh water fishery…a great trade, huh? “The Forest City two and our 100 years of dependency on these fisheries are left to swing in the wind”!! It’s a sad day, friends!

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