St. Croix

Alewives and blueback herring. Tim Watts photo.
The Schoodic, or Schoodiak, or St. Croix River in eastern Maine and New Brunswick had until the 1820s the largest population of alewives on Earth, with spring runs of more than 20 million spawning adults.

These runs were first wiped out in the 1830s by illegal dam construction on the river's lower reaches at Calais, Maine and St. Stephens, New Brunswick. Between 1964 and 1981, funding by the U.S. and Canadian governments rebuilt fishways at the lower dams on the St. Croix, allowing the alewives to return, and by 1987 their numbers climbed to nearly 3 million adults, which represented the largest remaining alewife run in North America.

At this same time a small number of recreational anglers on the St. Croix complained erroneously that the alewives were harming smallmouth bass, a non-native introduced fish highly popular with anglers. After several years of regulatory wrangling, in 1995 these anglers convinced the Maine Legislature to pass a law barring any alewife passage up the fishways on the St. Croix River. This law caused the population to plummet to only 900 adults by 2002 and caused Canada to capture and transport the few remaining alewives above the lower dams to prevent the complete extinction of the species on the St. Croix. Efforts by Gov. Angus King, Jr. in 2001 and Gov. John Baldacci in 2008 failed to garner enough support in the Maine Legislature to repeal the 'alewife ban' law, so it remains in effect today.

In 2010, KR members and others noticed that St. Croix alewife ban law collides wildly with the U.S. Clean Water Act (CWA); and the CWA prescribes a highly formal process by which states must submit laws which affect water quality to the US Environmental Protection Agency for review and approval, which in this case was never done. So began a new effort to convince Region 1 US EPA in Boston to belatedly review the St. Croix alewife ban law for U.S. Clean Water Act compliance.

When legal counsel at Region 1 EPA refused to do so, an ad hoc coalition was formed in 2011 to challenge the St. Croix law in U.S. Court for being non-compliant with the Clean Water Act. In early 2012, U.S. District Court Justice Nancy Torreson handed down a ruling which dismissed the case on the sole basis that it should have been filed under the citizens' suit provision of the U.S. Clean Water Act rather than as a federal pre-emption action.

With that ruling in hand, the coalition in May 2012 filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue against Region 1 US EPA for failing to review the St. Croix alewife ban law for U.S. Clean Water Act compliance.

PROJECT STATUS: On May 12, 2012 Friends of Merrymeeting Bay (FOMB), Douglas H. Watts and Kathleen McGee filed Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failure to conduct a timely review of the State of Maine St. Croix River alewife ban law for compliance with the U.S. Clean Water Act. Plaintiffs are represented by Roger Fleming of EarthJustice.

UPDATE:The Conservation Law Foundation on May 31, 2012 filed its formal complaint in U.S. District Court against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) for failing to review a 2008 Maine law banning the migration of native alewives in the St. Croix River for compliance with the U.S. Clean Water Act.


Maine Public Radio Story, May 16, 2012.


Bangor Daily News Story, May 15, 2012.
Quoddy Times News Story, May 25, 2012.


Passamaquoddy Alewives.