Gaspereau recovery in St. Croix threatened by U.S. politics, say activists
Bill in U.S. Congress would remove federal agency's oversight of fish ladders
Activists on both sides of the Maine-New Brunswick border are gearing up to fight a bill in the U.S. Congress they believe would hurt the recovery of fish populations in the St. Croix River.
If passed, the bill that is sponsored by Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin would exempt Woodland Pulp from regulations governing fish passage.
Woodland Pulp is a Maine-based company that owns four dams in the St. Croix system.
Those regulations under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) govern dams and the fish ladders over them, which allow movement upriver of sea-run species such as gaspereau.
The St. Croix River is an international river shared by New Brunswick and Maine. It was reopened to gaspereau in the the spring of 2013.
State legislators claimed they were protecting the smallmouth bass, an introduced fish favoured by anglers.
"That could have huge implications in terms of fish passage," said Jon Carr, the executive director of research and environment at the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
We're absolutely interested in avoiding that cost.- Collin Beal, Woodland Pulp LLC
"We're watching it very closely and I think the various levels of government should be watching this closely, too, and put pressure on our friends in the U.S. to make sure that things stay, remain the same."
Paul Bisulca of Schoodic Riverkeepers, a Passamaquoddy group in Maine, likens efforts by his group and other environmental organizations in the state to an "all-hands-on-deck mobilization."
Big step backward
Bisulka says removing FERC oversight would be a big step backward in efforts to rebuild gaspereau populations in the St Croix.
"Nobody does fish passage better than the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission because it becomes part of that mill's licence and there's penalties if you don't follow the licence," said Bisulca.
FERC regulations require maintenance of the fish ladders, and in some cases demand improvements to them.
Those rules put Woodland Pulp under "a hell of regulation and cost," said the company's environmental manager Collin Beal.
"We're absolutely interested in avoiding that cost," he said.
Beal says, however, that if the bill passes the company's dams would remain under the oversight of the International Joint Commission and that Woodland Pulp would continue to co-operate with resource agencies attempting to rebuild fish populations.
"We're neutral," said Beal.
"We'll do whatever they want us to do."
A call to Congressman Poliquin's Washington office by CBC News was not returned on Monday.