Alewife Interaction Committee

Background

Historically, anadromous fishes such as Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), American Shad (Alosa sapidissima), and river herring (Alosa spp.) ascended flowing waters throughout Maine’s coastal watersheds to spawn in rivers, lakes, and ponds.  Many of these spawning runs were eliminated due to a combination of centuries of river damming and declines in water quality.  In the 1950s biologists were hired by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; their initial focus included cataloging and managing passage concerns in support of restoration, as well as managing and creating fisheries for resident sport fish (i.e., landlocked salmon, rainbow smelt, lake trout, etc.) in waters that may have been historically used by anadromous species for spawning and rearing habitat.  The work of these early biologists facilitated future restoration initiatives and created resident fisheries that provide significant recreational, economic, and cultural benefits for the state of Maine.

A combination of improvements in water quality following the Clean Water Act (1972), barrier removal, public interest, and improved passage technology have created opportunities for the state—including the Maine Department of Marine Resources, in collaboration with other federal agencies and non-governmental organizations—to restore migratory fish populations within many of Maine’s coastal drainages, with a particular focus on sea-run alewives.  As a keystone species, sea-run alewives "tie the ocean, rivers, and lakes together" and are recognized as an important ecological ingredient for restoring healthy fisheries and watersheds.  The restoration of Maine’s native sea-run fisheries has provided a suite of socio-economic opportunities for the people of the state of Maine through recreational opportunities (e.g., angling for striped bass) and sources of bait for the American Lobster fishery.  Sea-run fish restoration in Maine has not only improved the status of many imperiled species directly (e.g., Atlantic Salmon) but also the status of other species that depend on sea-run fish for food (bald eagles, river otters, Atlantic cod, etc.).  As alewife restoration and habitat connectivity projects are increasing in frequency and scope, a growing number of freshwater habitats are candidates for alewife restoration, and some of these waters support significant resident sport fisheries that were not present and did not coevolve with some migratory species, raising concern regarding potential interactions.

The lack of information regarding potential interactions between sea-run alewives and some popular freshwater sport fisheries has complicated coordination with state and federal agencies.  This uncertainty has resulted in inconsistent messaging to the public, and MDIFW’s current advocacy responsibilities for resident fish has complicated the desire to fully support alewife restoration projects proposed by MDMR and other organizations.  Without an improved understanding of the potential interactions, there is a concern that resident sport fisheries that were established in the absence of alewives could be threatened if alewife runs were restored to those waters.  In addition, as barriers to passage are removed, there is an increased risk of furthering the distribution of aquatic invasive species which could pose additional risks to all native fish, both resident and migratory.

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Committee’s Role

The Alewife Interaction Committee was formed to allow state and federal sister fisheries agencies to work collaboratively toward gaining a better understanding of the potential implications that alewife restoration may have on established freshwater fisheries and use this information to guide management decisions.  Efforts by this committee to increase knowledge and understanding, and reduce uncertainty, are intended to support restoration by using science to develop, prioritize, and manage restoration efforts. Ultimately, this committee will have no direct role in decision-making in relation to fish passage authorities vested with state, federal and tribal entities, but instead will serve as a forum for coordination and communication and offer written documents summarizing information from discussions, literature reviews, and any committee-initiated research to inform management decision makers.

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Goals

  • Improve our understanding of potential interactions between sea-run alewives and the following freshwater fishes: landlocked rainbow smelt, landlocked Atlantic salmon, and smallmouth bass.
  • Identify strategies to minimize potential adverse interactions and enhance potential positive interactions between sea-run alewives and freshwater sport fisheries where and if interactions exist.
  • Identify strategies to minimize the risk of furthering the spread of aquatic invasive species as barriers are removed for the restoration of migratory fish populations.
  • Prepare reports summarizing committee-initiated research.
  • Advance meaningful federal, state, tribal, and NGO cooperative relationships in science through respectful discussions.

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Past Meetings

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Alewife Interaction Committee Members

Name Affiliation
Francis Brautigam ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries Division
Gregory Burr ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries Resource Supervisor- Region C 
Kevin Dunham ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries Resource Supervisor- Region F 
Fred Seavey US Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program Coordinator
Nate Gray ME Dept. of Marine Resources, Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat Biologist
Nick Kalejs ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries Biologist- Region A
Sean Ledwin ME Dept. of Marine Resources, Director of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat Division
Matt Lubejko ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries Resource Supervisor- Statewide
Josh Royte The Nature Conservancy, Senior Conservation Scientist
Rory Saunders National Marine Fisheries Service, Protected Resources Division
Jason Seiders ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries Resource Supervisor- Region B
Colin Shankland ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries Biologist- Region C
Sharri Venno Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Environmental Planner

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