Roger Fleming, an Earthjustice attorney from Appleton who represents recreational and commercial fishermen, as well as conservation organizations, in three federal suits seeking to protect river herring, alewives, and shad along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard issued the following statement in response to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s petition to list East Coast river herring (alewives and blueback herring) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

“The ESA listing petition from NRDC should not come as a surprise to anyone, especially the LePage administration and Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. In particular, on the St. Croix River the state is blocking alewives and river herring at the Grand Falls Dam from access to 98 percent of their spawning habitat in violation of federal law. The St. Croix used to be one of the largest alewife runs in the world with over 20 million migrating fish returning annually, but today it is collapsed with only a few hundred fish reaching only the lowest part of the river. Through its action aimed at appeasing a few politically connected sport-fishing guides, the state is ignoring its own science showing that alewives have no detrimental impact to upstream non-native bass populations.

“Compounding this problem, Maine is now arguing in federal court that decisions it recently pursued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to uphold the state’s ability to require upstream fish passage at dams under Maine’s water quality standards should now be ignored or overturned. It is another shocking example of the LePage administration’s hostile view of environment protection, and puts St. Croix alewives at risk of extinction.

“The ESA listing is also necessary at this time because state and federal regulators all along the Eastern Seaboard have failed to address another significant threat to river herring — their unregulated catch in ocean waters by industrial fishing vessels targeting Atlantic herring and mackerel. River herring spend most of their lives in the open ocean, where poor oversight of industrial scale fishing vessels threatens their survival. River herring are keystone species in the ocean ecosystem, providing food for stressed fish populations like cod, striped bass, and tuna, and must be protected in their marine environment. The best scientific data suggests, however, that river herring populations have declined coast wide by over 95 percent in recent years, and more in some rivers.

“This is a critical time for state and federal fisheries managers to take action to stem the decline of river herring, alewives, and shad, and protect our ocean and coastal ecosystems. There must be a positive response to NRDC’s listing petition that includes re-opening St. Croix River fish passage, and actions that monitor and limit the catch of river herring in the open ocean before it is too late.”

A link to NRDC blog post and NRDC’s ESA listing petition can be found at: switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/bsewell/its_time_to_save_our_threatene.html.