Feds extend public comment deadline for protecting river herring

Posted Dec. 29, 2011, at 5:56 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A deadline for the public to comment on a proposal to list river herring under the federal Endangered Species Act has been extended by 30 days, according to officials.

The original deadline was Jan. 3, 2012, but has been moved to Feb. 3, 2012.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has submitted a petition to list the fish as an endangered species to the federal National Marine Fisheries Service because of declining populations of the fish outside Maine waters along the East Coast.

Alewives and blueback herring, jointly referred to as river herring, serve as an important food source for a variety of marine and bird species, according to NRDC, but have declined in numbers due to a variety of factors that include overfishing by humans and dams that obstruct their passage up rivers.

Patrick Keliher, acting commissioner for Maine Department of Marine Resources, said the state opposes listing the fish as endangered. He said even though federal officials have the option of listing river herring populations outside of Maine as endangered, and not listing the fish in Maine, he is skeptical of data cited by pro-listing groups. Populations of river herring in Maine, he said, have been increasing.

“We’re going to oppose listing of river herring,” Keliher said Wednesday.

Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said in a joint statement released last week that they were pleased the comment period has been extended. In a letter they sent earlier this month to Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator for fisheries for NMFS, the senators indicated that listing river herring as endangered “would have a very costly, burdensome and unnecessary effect” on Maine fishermen and other public and private entities in the state.

“Maine programs are already producing results in river herring population and habitat recovery, and Maine DMR currently has a sustainable river herring management plan in place that has proven effective in increasing river herring populations,” Snowe and Collins said in the statement.

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