The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a unique relationship with federally-recognized Native American Tribes, as do all Federal agencies. This relationship is defined by treaties, statutes and agreements, and differs from relationships with state and local governments. In fact, Tribes are sovereign nations and the government works with them in nation-to-nation manner. The Northeast Region is committed to working with Tribes to conserve and manage wildlife resources. There are 19 Federally recognized Tribes in the Northeast, from Maine to Virginia. Each year, the Service administers Tribal Wildlife Grants program, providing financial and technical assistance for projects that benefit fish and wildlife resources and their habitat that are a priority for Tribes. One recent recipient of a grant is the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, headquartered in Presque Isle, Maine.
The Aroostook Band is part of the Micmac Nation, comprised of 29 bands with ancestral ties to the St. Lawrence, Maritime Provinces and other regions along the Atlantic Seaboard in Canada and the United States. The Tribe gained federal recognition in November of 1991, and now has approximately 1,240 members. The Aroostook Band is known for creating beautiful black ash baskets, quillwork birch bark boxes, and floral wooden sculptures. Last month, the Aroostook Band unveiled their newest creation, a recirculating aquaculture brook trout fish hatchery that was made possible by their Tribal Wildlife grant. The new fish hatchery has allowed the Tribe to grow brook trout, a traditional food source, and the first harvest went off in April without a hitch.
Like other fish species that are native to Maine’s waterways, the brook trout has long been an important part of the Aroostook Band’s cultural traditions and subsistence. The first brook trout fish harvest marked an important milestone for the Tribe, and fed the Tribal Council and guests at a Tribal Council meeting. It was incredibly thrilling for the community and especially for one Tribal Councilor, who remarked “25 years ago we were sitting in a small office on Main Street and this was just a pipe dream, now we are doing it!” One hundred pounds of fish were harvested, and the surplus was distributed to Tribal elders. Everyone agreed the fish tasted delicious! In addition, because these trout were grown in a closed system, they are free of contaminants.
Additionally, the Aroostook Band is developing a brook trout educational program for Tribal youth and other local youth. The purpose of the educational program will be to raise public awareness with regard to the importance of brook trout and the current ecological and human stressors that are affecting wild brook trout populations.
The next steps for the Aroostook Band will be harvesting and selling fish to the public. The money made on fish will help sustain the cost of the hatchery. Not only does the fish hatchery benefit the Tribe, it supports local fish populations by reducing fishing pressure on the native trout. (At this time, fish grown at the hatchery are not introduced into native watercourses or bodies of water.) The Aroostook Band is excited for the opportunity to protect wild brook trout populations while producing a healthy source of fresh fish for the community. The Tribe plans to hold an open house for the fish hatchery in the near future.