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AUGUSTA, Maine(NEWS CENTER) -- It's a debate that's been going on for nearly two decades in Washington County, and now it's being put before the Maine Legislature.

Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative Madonna Soctomah is sponsoring a bill that would overturn restrictions but in place back in 1995 that block upstream passage of alewives in the St. Croix River. The bill would ensure fishways on the Woodland Dam and Grand Falls Dam are configured in a way that allows alewives to pass through without restriction.

"For many years, the state of Maine has pursued a failed policy by blocking river herring access to the St. Croix River," Rep. Soctomah said while testifying during a public hearing on her bill Monday.

Supporters of the bill testified at the hearing that alewives are a vital part of groundfisheries in the Gulf of Maine, and are also beneficial to Maine's lobster industry.

"Alewives are important bait for Maine lobstermen. Having a river like the St. Croix that can produce millions and millions of alewives is huge to the lobster industry," Maine Lobstermen's Association President David Cousens said.

There has been a competing bill put before the legislature that would allow for alewives to pass through, but with certain restrictions, including limiting the number to six fish per acre to protect the bass population.

"Just by luck, I live where there are small watersheds, and can adapt," Maine Guides Association Executive Director Don Kleiner said. "My counterparts in the St. Croix River system would not have that flexibility, so that's an economic issue."

Kleiner said unrestricted access for alewives would negatively impact the bass fishing industry.

Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said another goal of the competing bill is to compromise and ensure balance in the river, with the goal of maintaining long-term restoration of alewives.

Lawmakers on the Marine Resources Committee will continue to consider the bill during an upcoming work session in Augusta.

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