U.S. Army Col. Tom Feir said he hopes the recently elected Maine state government will be willing to listen to concerns over the St. Croix River. (Connell Smith/CBC)

Conservationists left a meeting of the International Joint Commission on Wednesday disappointed that a long-standing fish dispute between Canada and the state of Maine shows no sign of ending.

The International Joint Commission representatives, which are appointed by the governments of Canada and the United States, told a public meeting in St Stephen on Wednesday that there is little the agency can do about the dispute over the ability of gaspereau to access the St. Croix River.

U.S. Army Col. Tom Feir, who co-chairs the International Joint Commission's St. Croix Board, said he has to find middle ground between Canada, a host of environmental groups and the state of Maine, which continues to block gaspereau from the St. Croix River.

Feir told the meeting his commission doesn't have the power to force Maine to back down from its long-held position.

"It's not like the IJC makes rules. What they do is they advise," Feir said.

The commission attempts to resolve water disputes on waterways shared by Canada and the United States.

Maine has blocked the St. Croix River to prevent gaspereau from migrating to their spawning grounds since 1995. The state is trying to keep native gaspereau out, claiming it is protecting the smallmouth bass, an introduced fish favoured by anglers.

Feir said he is hopeful a recently elected state government will be more willing to listen. 

Feir's optimism about the state changing its policy is not being shared by some of the environmental groups that were at the commission's meeting.

John Burrows, a member of Maine Rivers, an environmental group, said he expects little of the state's new Republican government. Republicans control the governor's office and the state's Senate and House of Representatives.

"The make up of the legislature has changed such that, I think, there's even less support there for opening the St. Croix," Burrows said.

Burrows said he predicts the river will remain closed to gaspereau and all parties will be back for another annual meeting of the International Joint Commission next year.