Alna questions DMR on alewife harvesting

Posted:  Monday, May 8, 2017 - 8:30am

Alna selectmen have questions for the state after hearing from the man who has been harvesting alewives in town for three decades. The board agreed May 3 to have Third Selectman Doug Baston write the Maine Department of Marine Resources a letter.

Plans called for the letter to address two restrictions on the town’s harvest plan David Sutter carries out. Selectmen wanted to know how to appeal a pumping ban and by what authority was cast-netting not being allowed under this year’s plan. Sutter said the state has always allowed him those options.

“What do you think, want to pick a fight,” Baston asked as he looked to First Selectman David Abbott. “Why not,” Abbott said.

Sutter, of Wiscasset, has Alna’s alewife harvesting contract. He told selectmen a DMR representative, Michael Brown, told him he can’t use those two harvesting methods. Brown’s April 26 email to the town states in part, “Dave Sutter was concerned about some changes we made to (the plan). Please pass this along ... as the basis for removing the mechanical pump from his permitted gear type in the plan.” The email includes a state law barring mechanical pumping to take or transport fish. The law lists exceptions; alewives are not among them.

The Wiscasset Newspaper emailed Brown. DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols responded. In phone interviews May 4 and 5, he said the mechanical harvesting ban is a regulation that dates to 2013. According to Nichols, since then, those reviewing Alna’s annual plan didn’t notice pumping in it. But Brown, who’d left and then returned to the department, noticed it in this year’s, Nichols said. Brown also recommended DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher not allow the cast-netting, based on the unique aspects of the Sheepscot River and the possibility of inadvertent catching of shad and the endangered Atlantic salmon.

Nichols emphasized, the department is concerned with conserving and sustaining fisheries. The commissioner has the authority to decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to allow cast-netting, Nichols said. Sutter said he has only used cast-netting in Alna on a limited basis and does not have by-catch there.

In an April 10 letter to the town, Keliher approved the plan with restrictions that include no use of a cast net or fish pump.

In interviews, Sutter explained he had been going to use both pumping and cast-netting in Alna this season, to make up for harvesting he won’t be able to do on the river’s west branch because a bridge on Whitefield’s Howe Road has been removed. As a result of the state’s restrictions on his methods this year, he will focus his harvest at Coopers Mills Dam in Whitefield. He will catch the fish by dip-netting for them at the fish ladder, he said.

He said the good news is, alewives he might miss in this year’s harvest will be around for next year’s.

Also at the selectmen’s meeting, Sutter voiced concern for the safety of children and pets around the traps DMR puts on the river for juvenile salmon. He said he’d heard about an incident Downeast, involving a dog getting hurt on one. Nichols said he was not aware of such an incident.