It has been a slightly better year to be a river herring (alewife or blueback herring) in New England. For the first time since the 19th century these anadromous fish – fish that migrate from saltwater to freshwater to breed – made it to the Upper Mystic Lake under their own power, thanks to a brand new fish ladder on the Mystic Lakes Dam. This is cause for celebration, and we’d like to have this kind of party more often in New England.
River herring are an important part of both river and ocean ecosystems. They can keep plankton blooms from impairing water quality in freshwater (maybe this could help the Mystic River get a better grades), and in saltwater they provide food for striped bass, bluefin tuna, cod, bluefish, and many other commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important animals. They’re the aquatic equivalent of rabbits – they keep the grass from getting too tall and they feed the big animals. But they need to be able to migrate upstream in order to breed like rabbits.
CLF has been working to improve the health of river herring in New England for some time now. Several months ago we filed a lawsuit against EPA to restore alewives to the St. Croix River in Maine– an action necessary to undo the State of Maine’s intentional obstruction of these fish from their native range.
Ultimately, EPA agreed with CLF and our contention that the fish must be restored. So did the Passamaquoddy Tribe, joined by other Maine tribes, who have requested Maine’s Governor Le Page to repeal the state law preventing the fish from migrating. The State of Maine has ignored EPA’s finding and the tribal requests and refuses to let the alewives through. CLF filed suit against the State of Maine in October, to continue our efforts on behalf of these native fish. Hopefully Maine will let the alewives in the St. Croix River finally go home.
CLF is a member of the Herring Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups that formed to help protect and restore ocean wildlife and ecosystems in the Northeast. The Herring Alliance is working to stop the wasteful bycatch of river herring by large, industrial trawlers, and is also working to protect ecologically important Atlantic herring (an exclusively saltwater herring) by putting an end to overfishing. Now that would be a party!